Powder inhalers are a type of inhaler that some people may use to manage asthma. The device delivers medication in powder form directly into the lungs.

Asthma is a chronic condition that affects the airways of the lungs. It causes inflammation and narrowing of the airways, which makes breathing difficult.

Several medications are available for asthma, including inhalers and nebulizers. Inhalers help the medication to reach the lungs directly.

There are four main types of inhalers for asthma:

  • metered dose inhalers (MDI)
  • breath-actuated inhalers
  • soft mist inhalers
  • dry powder inhalers (DPI)

This article provides more information about powder inhalers and how they work. It also discusses the benefits and side effects of powder inhalers.

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A person is holding an inhaler.
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Powder inhalers help deliver the drugs in powder form directly into the airways. They might consist of the medication alone or a blend of the medication and large carrier particles. Carrier particles help prevent aggregation and increase the flow of powder.

Powder inhalers rely only on forceful and deep inhalation for drug deposition in the targeted areas of the lungs. This can sometimes make them less suitable for children and those with severe airway obstruction.

There are three main types of powder inhalers:

  • single-unit dose inhaler, which involves loading one capsule into the device
  • multiple-unit dose, which contains multiple doses that a person can use until the device runs out
  • multiple-dose reservoir inhaler, which contains multiple doses in one reservoir

Examples of single-unit dose inhalers include:

  • Aerolizer
  • Breezhaler
  • HandiHaler

Examples of multiple-use dose inhalers include:

Examples of multiple-dose reservoir inhalers include:

  • Easyhaler
  • NEXThaler
  • Turbuhaler

Learn more about the different types of inhalers.

All powder inhalers have the same basic mechanism. The first step is inhaling the drug through the device. This inhalation provides energy that breaks up the compacted powder, which then travels into the lungs.

In some cases, certain carrier particles are blended with the medication to increase their ability to penetrate deep into the lungs. Following inhalation, the drugs reach the lungs, and clearance of the carrier particles takes place.

After reaching the lungs, the drugs either dissolve or reach their systemic targets through absorption. The particle size of drugs between 1–2 μm is most suitable for reaching the small airways and alveolar epithelium.

Most powder inhalers comprise corticosteroids and bronchodilators. They help to reduce the swelling of the airways and prevent their narrowing respectively.

A person will receive instructions on how to use their powder inhaler. The following general steps explain the process:

  • Load the device: Some powder inhalers, such as MDIs, come preloaded with medication. Others, such as single-dose inhalers, include separately packaged capsules that require loading.
  • Stand or sit up straight: Either standing or sitting up straight and then breathing out helps empty the lungs.
  • Close the lips tightly around the mouthpiece: This helps with breathing in quickly and forcefully.
  • Take the inhaler out of the mouth: After removing the inhaler, a person should hold their breath for 5–10 seconds and then exhale slowly.
  • Repeat steps: If the treatment requires multiple doses, a person must repeat the above steps.
  • Close the device: After the treatment, a person must wipe the mouthpiece with a dry cloth and store it in a dry location.

People using a capsule device must open the chamber to check they have inhaled the entire dose. If a person finds any remaining powder, they must inhale again.

The benefits of using powder inhalers include the following:

  • They are portable and easy to use.
  • They have a higher drug deposition rate than some other options.
  • They do not use propellants for transporting the drug.
  • There is higher stability compared with drug solutions.
  • They are environmentally less harmful than some other options.

A powder inhaler may only be suitable for some people. A person’s doctor will be able to discuss their treatment options with them to ensure they use the right inhaler for them.

As with any medication, using a powder inhaler has possible side effects.

Some common side effects include:

A person must contact a doctor if they experience any side effects. Doctors can then help reduce or manage these and prevent them from becoming severe. Developing a good inhaler technique can also help reduce the risk of side effects.

Powder inhalers can help manage asthma by direct delivering medication to the lungs via inhalation. They are easy to use, have a higher drug deposition rate, and are environmentally safer than some alternatives.

Powder inhalers mostly include corticosteroids and bronchodilators for the treatment of asthma. In some cases, a person might experience certain side effects. Following instructions and developing a good inhaler technique can help reduce these risks.