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Inhaler technique


  • Wash hands; Introduce self; ask Patient’s name, DOB and what they like to be called; Explain what you propose to do
  • Check what patient already knows regarding condition (asthma/COPD), inhaler treatments and technique

Asthma/COPD review

  • Review patient’s asthma/COPD control
    • How often they require salbutamol or experience symptoms
    • When they use their preventer
    • Number of exacerbations
    • Exercise tolerance
    • Peak flow measurements (for asthma)
  • Check understanding of inhalers, technique, and compliance
  • Explain type of inhaler, its purpose, and when to use it

Inhaler technique explanation

Initial information giving

  • Inhaler contains a set dose of medication
  • The aim is to get it into the lungs
  • Drug released by pressing canister or twisting/clicking device – demonstrate

Steps for Metered dose inhaler use

  1. Check date of expiration
  2. Shake vigorously
  3. Remove cap and check the inside is clean
  4. Stand or sit up straight 
  5. Hold inhaler upright with index finger on top and thumb at the bottom
  6. Breathe out completely
  7. Seal mouth well around mouthpiece
  8. Press firmly down on the canister and simultaneously breathe in slowly and deeply (aim for back of throat)
  9. Hold breath for 10 seconds or as long as possible
  10. Breathe out slowly
  11. Replace cap
  12. Repeat after 1 minute if required 
  13. Wash mouth out afterwards (if using steroid inhaler)

Demonstration and observation

  • Demonstrate it yourself
  • Clean the mouthpiece of a different placebo inhaler (with an alcohol 70%/chlorhexidine 2% device disinfection wipe) 
  • Ask the patient to demonstrate how they would use it
  • Observe the patient and correct any mistakes
  • Get the patient to repeat until they do it correctly

Other advice

  • Seek emergency help if symptoms are severe or not relieved by inhaler
  • See GP or specialist nurse if suffering with side effects or using reliever inhaler more than 3 times per week
  • Ask the patient if they have any questions or concerns

Use of a spacer device

Spacers may be used in children, those experiencing side effects from steroid inhalers, or people having difficulty with inhaler technique. Usage steps:

  • Assemble spacer
  • Shake inhaler and then remove cap 
  • Attach it to the spacer
  • Breathe out completely
  • Seal mouth around spacer mouthpiece
  • Press on the canister to release drug
  • Breathe in slowly and deeply for 3-5 seconds and then hold for 10 seconds (or, alternatively, take five normal breaths from the spacer in and out through the mouth)
  • Repeat if required after 1 minute
  • NB: if the device whistles they are breathing in too quickly.

Looking after the spacer:

  • Wash spacer with warm water and soap
  • Always leave to drip dry
  • Replace every 6-12 months

Learn more about inhalers…

The asthma and COPD prescription ladders and more about inhalers is covered here!

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