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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.

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