As a physician who specializes in allergy and
immunology, and as one who suffers from allergies and asthma, I have experienced
both sides of the physician-patient relationship. Do you remember when you were
given your first inhaler from a doctor? I do, and I also remember receiving no
instructions on how to use it. Needless to say, it took me about a week to get
it right, and in the meantime I wasted a lot of good medicine.
Nowadays, as a physician, I keep this memory in mind when I prescribe patients
an inhaler for their asthma. In fact, inhaler technique is actually really
important. Studies have shown that under perfect conditions, when you use the
inhaler exactly the was you're supposed to, only about 15% of the medicine makes
it to the lungs. 15%! That means 85% of the medicine lands on your mouth,
tongue, throat, etc.
One tool that can maximize the amount of asthma medicine that reaches your lungs
is a spacer. These are typically plastic tubes or chambers with a space for an
inhaler on one side, and a mouthpiece or mask on the other side. The idea is to
"trap" the medicine when it's released from the inhaler, only entering your
airway and lungs when you take a few breaths. Many patients feel that spacers
are only useful for children who can't adequately time the release of medicine
with an inhalation into the mouth. I use spacers whenever I can, however, even
for my adult patients. I even bought a spacer for myself!
If you have asthma, and you've received your first inhaler, or if you are a
seasoned asthmatic who needs a refresher course on proper inhaler use, talk to
your doctor! That is the best first step you can take, but there are other
online options that can help:
Here at About.com, we have an excellent series of specific instructions.
National Jewish Health, the #1 respiratory hospital in the United States, has an
excellent review here.
Monaghan, the makers of an excellent spacer, have an excellent video that
demonstrates proper spacer use.