Types of Inhalers for Asthma & COPD

July 20,2022

Asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are long-term respiratory conditions that make it difficult to breathe. Although it is unclear whether asthma can be cured or not, treatments are available. The most common treatment method involves inhaling medication directly into the airways using a handheld inhaler or a nebulizer.

Asthma inhalers are portable devices that help you breathe by delivering medications to your lungs. They are the fastest, safest, and most effective way to treat and control asthma and COPD. You can find a variety of inhalers to control different asthma symptoms. Each of them serves a distinct purpose, such as preventing frequent asthma attacks, relieving symptoms, and more. 

While selecting the right inhaler, you have to maintain a perfect balance between your requirements, correct medications, and your ability to use an inhaler. Also, you need to consult your doctor or healthcare expert to learn to use the device. 

This blog explores different types of asthma inhalers and the medicines they use. 

What Are The Different Types of Inhalers for Asthma?

You may be surprised to know that there are different types of asthma inhalers, each meant for distinct asthma medication. Apart from conventional inhalers, they can be grouped based on the purpose they serve for the treatment of asthma. 

Reliever Inhalers - Contain Bronchodilator Medicines

For instant relief from an asthma attack, use a reliever inhaler. It eases symptoms within a few minutes by delivering medicine directly to your lungs and relaxing muscles in the airways. This leads to wider airways and you can breathe easily. The medicine used in these inhalers is called bronchodilators because they widen (dilate) the airways (bronchi). In case you require a reliever three or more times a week to control asthma symptoms, doctors usually recommend a preventer inhaler. 

Preventer Inhalers - Contain a Steroid Medicine

Preventer inhalers are used every day to prevent inflammation and swelling in the airways. When you use this inhaler as prescribed and with the right technique, your airways become less sensitive, which reduces symptoms, such as wheezing and your reaction to asthma triggers. Even if you are feeling well and not experiencing asthma attacks frequently, keep using a preventer inhaler as it builds up a protective effect. The inhaler contains steroid medicine that takes 7-14 days to manage your asthma symptoms and work effectively. 

Combination Inhalers

Even after using a reliever or preventer inhaler, if you don’t feel any difference in your breathing or symptoms, then you may need a combination inhaler. It combines medicines of preventer and reliever inhalers and is used every day to treat asthma attacks, stop recurring symptoms, and ensure long-lasting relief. Use it regularly or as prescribed even when you don’t have symptoms. 

Long-acting Bronchodilator Inhalers (LABA Inhalers)

Long-acting bronchodilator inhalers relax your muscles around airways thus, keeping them open. The medicine used in this inhaler works the same way as relievers but the effect lasts for at least 12 hours. Hence, the name long-acting. LABAs are advised in addition to steroids if your symptoms are not under control. The former keeps your airways open while the latter prevents inflammation. A few examples of LABA inhalers are Striverdi (olodaterol), Serevent (salmeterol), and Foradil (formoterol).

What Are The Types of Inhaler Devices?

Based on medications, the technique to use, and other aspects, inhaler devices are classified as Metered Dose Inhalers (MDIs), Breath Actuated Inhalers (BAIs), Dry Powder Inhalers (DPIs), and Nebulisers.

The Standard MDI Inhaler

The MDI has been around for over 40 years as the most commonly-used inhaler. Its pressurised inactive gas propels a dose of prescribed medicine in every puff. The standard MDI works faster and is easy to carry. However, many asthma patients do not use this inhaler to its best effect. You need the right coordination between pressing the canister and breathing, which are to be done simultaneously.

Breath-activated Inhaler

These are an alternative to MDIs but don’t require you to press a canister. You trigger a dose by just breathing in at the mouthpiece. However, you have to breathe in fairly hard to take in the medicine. Some common examples are autohalers and easy-breathe inhalers. Although each breath-activated inhaler operates differently, they usually require less coordination than MDIs. 

Dry Powder Inhaler

As the name suggests, these asthma inhalers deliver medicine in a dry powder form. Here, you don’t have a chemical propellant to push the medicine out of it but need to breathe in fast and deep to release medications. You can find a single dose device that uses a capsule for every treatment or can have a multiple dose inhaler that holds up to 200 doses. 


Nebulisers turn liquid asthma medicine into a fine mist so you can use it with a face mask. They are expensive, bulky, time-consuming to use, and have the same effect as normal inhalers. However, the machines are helpful for patients who are exhausted. They are generally used in hospitals for severe cases when large doses of medicines are needed to prevent asthma attacks. With nebulisers, you don’t need to maintain coordination while breathing in and out, you can breathe normally to take in medicine. 

Consult our health experts to find which type of inhaler is best for you

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  1. Do you get side effects from inhalers?

    When you use a standard inhaler, the amount of each dose is small than liquid or tablet and so are the side effects. However, make sure to read the instructions that come with inhalers to avoid possible issues. For example, steroid inhalers used with a high dose can make your throat feel sore, cause a thrush infection, and make your voice hoarse. So, doctors recommend rinsing your mouth with water and brushing your teeth after using steroid inhalers to mitigate the chances of such problems. Moreover, some inhalers, such as spacers are less likely to cause throat infection so try changing the device if you face any throat problems./p>

    Also, using a high dose of steroids for a long duration increases the risk of developing osteoporosis. You can prevent it through regular exercise, a diet that contains calcium, and not smoking. If children are using steroid inhalers, then monitor their growth as they can delay regular growth. Another concern with steroid medicine is mental health so if a patient is going through psychosis, a steroid inhaler can trigger the condition. So, prefer to seek medical guidance in case of behavioural changes. 

  2. Which is the best inhaler device to use?

    To choose from different types of asthma inhalers, consider the following factors:

    • Age: Avoid using dry powder inhalers for children under the age of 6 because they can’t breathe in strong enough to inhale the medicine. For children under 12, a standard MDI without a spacer is not advised. Even elderly people find it difficult to use MDIs.

    • Convenience: If you want an inhaler that can be carried easily in a bag or pocket, then prefer a standard MDI inhaler.

    • Side effects: Chances of throat infection and thrush are more in steroid inhalers. If you face any such issue, use a spacer device as it releases less medicine. 

    • Coordination: Some inhalers need coordination between breathing and pushing the canister, so choose according to your convenience.