Different Types of Asthma Inhalers

Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease of the airways, which is primarily treated by medication that must be taken by inspiration and is administered by inhalers. In the table below you will find descriptions of three types of inhalers.

Type of Inhaler
Examples of Brand Names
Metered Dose Inhaler A metered dose inhaler consists of a small pressurized canister containing an aerosol form of medication, a dosing chamber and a mouthpiece through which medication is inhaled.  To administer the medication the patient must take a slow deep breath at the same time as they push down on the canister. During dosing with a metered dose inhaler it is permissible to breathe out a little. Some metered dose inhalers have an automatic delivery system and release the medication as the patient breathes. This delivery system is particularly useful for people that have trouble coordinating their breath with pushing the pump.  Doses in a metered dose inhaler must be counted manually, unless the inhaler comes with a dosage counter. A disadvantage of the metered dose inhaler is that some medication can stick to the back of the throat and not reach the airways. Corticosteroids:  Flovent®, Azmacort®, Beclovent®, Vanceril®, Budesonide®, Qvar® and Aerobid®.Bronchodilators: Ventolin®, Proventil®, Maxair®, Xopenex®, Alupent® and ProAir®.Combination: Advair® and Symbicort®.
Metered Dose Inhaler with Spacer A metered dose inhaler can sometime be used in together with a spacer. Spacers are holding chambers, which can be wither a small bag or a one-way valve which holds the medication after it is released from the canister. This allows the user to inhale the medication in as many breaths as needed. Without a spacer, medication is propelled at such a high velocity that a sizable proportion does not reach the airways but sticks to the tongue and throat.  Spacer use also decreases the incidence of side effects, as the amount of swallowed medication is decreased.  The only disadvantage of spacer use is that it makes an asthma inhaler less convenient to carry. Spacers are either attached to the metered dose inhaler or can be bought separately. Able Spacer®, Aerochamber Plus®, Nebuchamber®, Optichamber®, Pocket Chamber®, Volumatic®,  and Vortex®
Dry Powder Inhaler This type of asthma inhaler delivers medication in powder form and does not require a chemical propellant, such as hydrofluoroalkanes, to distribute the medication as metered doses inhalers do. However, it may be more difficult to use as dosing requires one deep, fast breath to get the medication to the airways, and breathing out during the procedure can result in lost medication. In contrast, an advantage to the dry powder and single dose inhalers is that a user will never unknowingly run out of medication. Accuhaler/Discus GOLD®, Aerohaler GOLD®, Aerolizer GOLD®, Clickhaler GOLD®, Diskhaler/Rotadisk GOLD®, Easyhaler GOLD®, Handihaler GOLD®,  Novolizer GOLD®, Pulvinal GOLD®, Rotahaler GOLD®, and Turbuhaler GOLD®


[1] Asthma Society of Canada. Accessed August 8, 2012. http://www.asthma.ca/adults/about/whatIsAsthma.php