Signs You May Be Overusing Your Inhaler

by John Bottrell Health Professional

For years I thought I was the lone bronchodilatoraholic in this world. When I started Respiratory Therapist school, I learned I was not the only one. They are everywhere. But to spot one, you have to be vigilant.

It was orientation day at RT school when I met Sammy. The teacher asked us to stand, state our names, and tell everyone why we wanted to be RTs.

I was first. I stood and said, "My name is Rick Frea and I have been an asthmatic my
whole life. I have met many RTs and now I would like to be one."

The next ten students stated reasons that varied from "I have a child with asthma" to "I just drew a straw and RT is what came up."

Then a lady about my age stood up. She smiled and looked at me and said, "My name is Sammy and, well, I too have asthma."

When class was over, I met Sammy in the cafeteria. Naturally we talked about asthma.

"I sleep with my inhaler," she said.

"YOU DO?" I said.

"Yeah, why?"

"You mean you are a bronchodilatoraholic too?"

"Well, I don't know if I'm a... what was that?"


"I don't know if I'm that, but I never leave home without it."

"Wow! That's what I always say, 'I never leave home without it.'"

Then, once I was an RT, I met Mike the asthmatic patient. His doctor's order was for me to give him an Albuterol breathing treatment every four hours. Usually, by the time I entered his room, he needed it.

"Hey, how's it going, Mike?" I asked. He was lying on his back watching TV.

"I'm feeling better," he said. He sat up, kicked his legs to the side of the bed, and an object fell from the bed and clicked on the floor.

I looked down. It was a little blue Albuterol inhaler. I picked it up and looked at it, then at Mike. He had a guilty look on his face like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar, which was funny to me, because this man was old enough to be my dad.

"Oops," he said childishly.

"Have you been using this between treatments?" Now I was the dad.

"Um, well, yeah I have."

"You are a fellow bronchodilatoraholic."

"A what?


"What's that?"

"You know, you can't live without your inhaler in your grasp."

"Well, you caught me. I'm guilty. I keep one under my pillow."

Since then, I have met many bronchodilatoraholics. In fact, even as I write this, an EMT friend of mine is sitting on the couch in my living room. She just finished telling me how she sometimes takes a "few extra hits of my inhaler so I don't have to go to the doctor."

"So," I said, "You are a bronchodilatoraholic too."

"Yep, I guess I am. There are times I find myself sleeping with that inhaler by my side, or making sure it is in my pocket before I go to bed. I feel a loss of control, dependence, anxiety when it's not around."

That in mind, we bronchodilatoraholics created an unscientific definition of bronchodilatoraholic.

You might be a bronchodilatoraholic if you do five or more of the following:

  • You habitually take five puffs in a row instead of two.

  • You keep a spare at all the places you might need it (school, work, car) and they are all almost empty.

  • You don't wait the five minutes between puffs.

  • You find yourself sneaking around corners to use it.

  • It feels like a security blanket.

  • You have to have your inhaler in your possession at all times.

  • You have anxiety when you do not have one on you.

  • You use it when you think of it rather than when you need it.

  • You sleep with it in your grasp or under your pillow.

  • You use it while driving.

  • You use it when you are irritated at your spouse or girlfriend.

  • You keep puffing regardless of side effects.

  • If you ever think you should cut down on your puffing.

  • People call you a "puffer-head."

  • You feel guilt about using your inhaler so much.

  • You have strong heart palpitations and are afraid to go to sleep.

  • You are jittery or nervous due to puffing too much.

  • Family members make excuses for you.

  • You use it and your ARE NOT an asthmatic.

  • You can't resist the urge to puff.

  • You use it to get out of something (gym, yard work, household chores).

  • You use it to gain sympathy from others.

  • You get up in the middle of the night scrounging the house for the one you lost.

  • You spend hours trying to get one more puff out of an empty canister.

  • You call a buddy and ask to use theirs.

  • You have lost inhalers all over your house (stuffed in the cushions of the couch, under the bed, in the car, behind the refrigerator).

  • You trade your favorite baseball card for an inhaler.

  • You end up in the ER because your inhaler ran out.

  • You often say, "I never leave home without it."

  • You use it as a stress reliever.

  • You go to the hospital afraid the RT learn you took too many puffs.

Before I moved to my new home a few years ago I had a large, black garbage bag stuffed with my old inhalers and nebulizers. In that bag was probably every color and size inhaler ever made.

Unfortunately, when I moved to my new home, I accidentally mistook that bag as garbage and threw it away. I'm still mad at myself for doing that. Otherwise it would make for a pretty impressive picture.

Now, after reading this article, you should be able to pick a bronchodilatoraholic out of the crowd. Just listen for the puff-puff. Or, if you decide you too are a bronchodilatoraholic, now you know you are not alone. You should recognize that you need to talk to your doctor, sharing these unreasonable behavior patterns honestly, so you can limit your anxiety and have faith in your asthma treatment protocol.

Not all bronchodilatoraholics are abusing their inhaler out of habit. Some are hard-luck asthmatics who just need help breathing often. Others, like I was, are regular asthmatics whose asthma is severe and difficult to control. But be careful; you become an abuser when you use the inhaler more out of habit than necessity; when you ignore the directions your doctor gives you and when you don't bother to work on an asthma action plan with your doctor. Your personalized asthma action plan should cover all scenarios so you feel that you can manage symptoms adequately, without overusing an inhaler as a means of prevention or control.

If you think you are a bronchodilatoraholic, begin by admitting that you have a problem. Next, see your doctor, share your habits, and get some help controlling your asthma and your anxiety. Trust me, you'll feel much better.

John Bottrell
Meet Our Writer
John Bottrell

John Bottrell is a registered Respiratory Therapist. He wrote for HealthCentral as a health professional for Asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).