20 Signs You're Using Your Asthma Inhaler Correctly

Health Professional
Medically Reviewed

In a previous post, we discussed 31 signs you are overusing your (bronchodilator) rescue inhaler. Now we would like to provide you the signs you are using your rescue inhaler correctly.

Most doctors recommend asthmatics carry a rescue inhaler with them at all times. Not only that, but every asthmatic should have one at home, in the car, at work, school, day care, and grandma's house.

The term "rescue" inhaler is actually a little misleading. An asthmatic should use the rescue inhaler at the first sign of breathing trouble. You should NOT wait until you are having a lot of trouble breathing. Most doctors also believe — as does this humble respiratory therapist and fellow asthmatic — that you cannot overdose on your rescue inhaler, but it also should not be used irreverently.

However, with the exception of a few hard luck asthmatics, frequent need of your rescue inhaler, most doctors believe, is an indication that your asthma is poorly controlled. That means you may require a new asthma assessment which may result in some medication changes.

Likewise, most respiratory therapists (RTs) recommend asthmatics use their rescue inhaler with a spacer. A spacer can make the medicine work better and help patients to effectively use their inhalers.

When I was a kid there were no manufactured spacers available, so my RT told me to use a toilet paper holder. Obviously, that wasn't something I was overly eager to use at school.

Today, spacers are pretty high tech and are manufactured. To get a spacer you should talk to your doctor and he can either give you one or write a prescription so you can pick one up at your pharmacy.

The spacer works to evenly disperses the particles of medicine to help you breathe them in, rather than having the medicine hit the back of your throat and stay there. In this way more of the medicine gets into the lungs, and allows you to access the full dose of the medication.

Likewise, most asthma experts recommend all asthmatics have an asthma action plan to help you know when to use your inhaler and when to call your doctor or go to the ER.

So, that in mind, you know you are using your rescue inhaler correctly when:

  1. You only use it when you actually need it.
  2. Your asthma is relatively well-controlled.
  3. You are vigilant and if you are using it too much, you call your doctor.
  4. You get a new maintenance inhaler more often than a new rescue inhaler.
  5. Your rescue inhaler lasts the prescribed amount of time as opposed to you renewing it every week.
  6. Your prescription is for one or two inhalers monthly instead of 3 or 4. (This can be variable if you have severe asthma.)
  7. You actually have your inhaler long enough for it to expire.
  8. You don't have an asthma attack just because you forgot your inhaler.
  9. Someone actually says to you, "I haven't seen you use your puffer in a while."
  10. Your best friend is a person and not your puffer.
  11. You don't get that slathery, icky drug taste in your mouth 20 times a day from blasting it into the back of your throat.
  12. Your spacer doesn't whistle every time you use it.
  13. You actually use your spacer.
  14. You actually know what a spacer is.
  15. You NEVER use your maintenance medication more often than prescribed.
  16. You follow inhaler directions precisely.
  17. If you have exercise-induced asthma, you use your inhaler just prior to exercising as a preventative measure.
  18. Even though you don't use it, you still carry it with you at all times.
  19. You keep one at all locations where you spend the most time, and you make sure this inhaler is not expired.
  20. You never use an inhaler that is over a year old (Have you tried inhaling expired medications? Trust me, they can taste awful!)