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Asthma is a condition where the airways constrict, leading to breathing difficulties. People with asthma may use inhalers to deliver medication to the airways to avoid asthma attacks or to relieve symptoms during an attack.

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Around 1 in 13 people in the United States have asthma, and on average, 10 people die from this condition each day. A doctor may prescribe an asthma inhaler to help treat the symptoms of the condition.

Inhalers are portable, hand-held devices that deliver asthma medication to the lungs and airways. Inhalers can help prevent or relieve asthma symptoms, such as wheezing, coughing, and chest tightness.

Learn more about asthma medication and devices here.

Asthma medication helps alleviate the symptoms of the condition by using bronchodilators to relax the muscles in the airways, and anti-inflammatories to reduce swelling and mucus.

Bronchodilators can be either short- or long-acting.

Short-acting inhalers, which people may also call quick-relief or rescue inhalers, provide short-term relief for sudden asthma symptoms.

Long-acting inhalers, on the other hand, can help prevent asthma symptoms. A person will usually need to use these inhalers daily.

Doctors may prescribe one or both types of bronchodilators in inhaler forms. An individual can also purchase over-the-counter (OTC) inhalers to ease asthma symptoms.

Learn more about OTC asthma inhalers here.

It is advisable to consider the following factors before purchasing an OTC inhaler:

Type of inhaler

There are various types of inhalers that differ in the method of delivering the medication. These types include:

  • Metered dose inhalers (MDIs): These inhalers automatically release the medication by using a propellant to disperse the mist into a person’s mouth.
  • Breath-actuated inhalers (BAIs): These devices have a dry powder or aerosol medication. BAIs do not have a propellant, and they release the medication as people breathe it in.
  • Dry powder inhalers (DPIs): This type of inhaler has a dry powder and does not use a propellant. It will release the medication as an individual breathes it in.
  • Soft mist inhalers: These inhalers do not use a propellant. Instead, they spray an aerosol form of medication that a person breathes in.

Medication type and dosage

A person’s medication and dosage depend on the severity of their asthma, symptoms, age, and side effects. Doctors may prescribe two or more inhalers for an individual with severe or uncontrolled asthma.

Additionally, doctors may recommend using a combination inhaler that has two or three different medications. A 2021 study found that using a single-inhaler triple therapy is a safe and effective option for individuals with uncontrolled asthma.

Below, we look at some of the asthma inhalers available on the market that a person may wish to consider purchasing.

Please note that the writer of this article has not tried these products. All information presented is purely research-based and correct at the time of publication.

Primatene Mist HFA

Best for short-term relief

Primatene Mist is an OTC asthma inhaler that has approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). People do not need a prescription to purchase this product.

Learn more about Primatene Mist here.

Primatene states that this inhaler is suitable for short-term relief of intermittent asthma.

This inhaler is a bronchodilator MDI that has epinephrine as its active ingredient. The company states that it is suitable for use by children aged 12 years or older and adults.

Primatene Mist HFA is available in stores and online.

At the time of publication, this product is available from Walmart and costs $27.98.

Asthmanefrin

Best for bronchial asthma

Asthmanefrin is an OTC atomizer that turns liquid medication into a fine mist for people to breathe in. The main ingredient is racepinephrine, a mixture of two types of epinephrine.

The manufacturer states that this inhaler is suitable for use in individuals aged 4 years or older for short-term relief from bronchial asthma.

People can purchase this product in Walmart stores and through the company website.

At the time of publication, Asthmanefrin costs $30.

Trelegy

Best for long-term use

Trelegy is a prescription DPI inhaler consisting of three DPIs: fluticasone, vilanterol, and umeclidinium. A 2021 study found that a combination of these three medications is an effective treatment for moderate to severe asthma.

The company states that this product is suitable for long-term use in adults.

Trelegy also notes that an individual needs only one dose every 24 hours. The product has a dose counter that people can use to check how many doses are left in the inhaler.

Pulmicort Flexhaler

Best for maintenance

Pulmicort is a prescription DPI inhaler that contains the corticosteroid budesonide as its active ingredient.

Learn more about Pulmicort here.

This product is a maintenance inhaler that doctors can prescribe for adults and children over the age of 6 years.

The Pulmicort Flexhaler comes in two doses, 90 and 180 micrograms, and people need to use the inhaler twice per day.

ProAir Digihaler

Best for exercise-induced asthma

ProAir Digihaler is a prescription DPI with albuterol as its active ingredient.

Learn more about ProAir here.

This product is a rescue inhaler that is suitable for use by people aged 4 years or older to prevent exercise-induced bronchospasm and asthma symptoms.

People can download the ProAir app to record their usage of the inhaler and inhalation airflow. They can then share the app reports with a healthcare team.

People should always follow the manufacturer’s instructions when using an asthma inhaler.

Some general tips for using an MDI include the following:

  1. Remove the cap and prime the inhaler by squirting out a couple of puffs into the air.
  2. Stand or sit up straight.
  3. Take a deep breath in and out to clear the lungs.
  4. Place the mouthpiece into the mouth and form a tight seal.
  5. While breathing in, press the canister to release one puff of the medication.
  6. Hold the medication in the lungs for 10 seconds by not breathing out.
  7. Take the inhaler out of the mouth and slowly breathe out.

The following are some general tips for using a DPI:

  1. Remove the cap and hold the inhaler upright, or flat if it is saucer-shaped.
  2. Load a dose of the medication by following the manufacturer’s instructions.
  3. Stand or sit up straight.
  4. Take a deep breath in and out to clear the lungs.
  5. Place the mouthpiece into the mouth and form a tight seal.
  6. Take a deep and forceful breath through the mouth.
  7. Hold the medication in the lungs for 10 seconds by not breathing out.
  8. Take the inhaler out of the mouth and slowly breathe out.

If an individual needs to take two doses of medicine from any type of inhaler, they should wait for 1 minute between doses.

People with asthma should have regular appointments with a healthcare team to monitor the condition and ensure that their medication is still suitable.

The American Lung Association states that a person should contact a doctor straight away if they experience any of the following:

An individual should seek immediate medical attention if they or another person has the following symptoms:

Other warning signs include:

  • the skin between the throat and ribs appearing stretched while inhaling
  • finding it difficult to walk or talk
  • inhalers not relieving symptoms

Read more on what to do when a person has an asthma attack here.

Asthma inhalers are a form of delivering medication to relax the airways and reduce swelling and mucus.

While most inhalers are only available on prescription, some are available over the counter. People should always ask a healthcare professional to recommend an OTC inhaler if they wish to purchase one.