How To Use a Bronchodilator Inhaler Properly

Getting breathing relief from a bronchodilator inhaler takes a little practice

Close up of older Hispanic woman using asthma inhaler
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If you have a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or another lung disease such as asthma, learning how to use a bronchodilator inhaler is important for your health and self-care.

A bronchodilator is a medication used to help relax the smooth muscle of your airways. When your airways are relaxed, more air can flow in and out of your lungs, allowing you to breathe easier, and a bronchodilator provides fast relief for symptoms of shortness of breath.

You take these medications by breathing them in through an inhaler device. These devices take a little practice to learn to use well, but you should be able to learn their use in just a few minutes by following these steps.

How to Use a Bronchodilator Inhaler

  1. Shake the inhaler thoroughly before using it.
  2. Remove the cap from the inhaler's mouthpiece.
  3. Take in a breath and exhale completely.
  4. With the canister pointing upward and the mouthpiece aimed at your mouth, put the mouthpiece into your mouth and close your lips around it.
  5. Take a fast, deep breath through your mouth, while simultaneously pressing firmly on the bottom of the canister.
  6. Hold your breath for five to 10 seconds, allowing the medication to be disbursed into your lungs. Remove the mouthpiece from your mouth and breathe normally.
  7. If your doctor has recommended a second dose of medication, wait for one to two minutes, shake the inhaler again and repeat steps 3 through 6.
  1. Replace the cap of the mouthpiece after each use to keep dust and other particles from getting into it.
  2. Rinse your mouth with water after you use the inhaler.

What Not to Do with Your Inhaler

When you're still having trouble breathing even after using your bronchodilator inhaler, you may be tempted to use it again to give yourself a second dose of the medication.

Despite the temptation, you need to stick with the dose prescribed by your doctor. If you feel as if your medications need to be adjusted, talk about it with your physician.

There are several other things you shouldn't do with your inhaler (or someone else's):

  1. Do not use your inhaler after the expiration date listed on the canister.
  2. Do not store or use your inhaler near heat or an open flame.
  3. Do not use other people's inhalers.
  4. Keep this and all medications away from the reach of children.

Bronchodilator inhalers can be an important tool that helps you keep your COPD under control, but you need to learn to use them properly to have the most impact. A few minutes spent going over these steps — and, if necessary, discussing them with your care team — can pay major dividends for your health.


Restrepo RD et al. Medication adherence issues in patients treated for COPD. International Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. 2008 Sep; 3(3): 371–384.

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