Asthma Management Handbook

Considerations when using inhaled reliever or preventer medicines


Advise patients and carers that new inhalers must be primed before first use, by firing a number of actuations into the air.

Note: Instructions differ between products, so they should follow the manufacturer’s instructions

How this recommendation was developed


Based on clinical experience and expert opinion (informed by evidence, where available).

Advise patients/carers that inhalers should be stored below 30°C and should not be left in cars.

Note: Some inhalers should be brought to room temperature before use if they have been stored in a refrigerator. Patients and parents/carers should read the manufacturer’s instructions for storage and use.

How this recommendation was developed


Based on clinical experience and expert opinion (informed by evidence, where available).

Last reviewed version 2.0

For patients who use a pressurised metered-dose inhaler (‘puffer’) for their reliever (e.g. Airomir, Asmol, Ventolin), advise patients or parents how to take the medicine during asthma symptoms:

  • For childen, use a spacer whenever possible.
  • Use a spacer for adults whose symptoms are not relieved when using the inhaler on its own, and whenever possible for acute asthma.
  • Shake the puffer before every puff (whether using a spacer or not). If using a spacer, either disconnect the puffer and shake it before reconnecting to spacer, or take the spacer mouthpiece out of the mouth and shake the puffer while still connected to the spacer.


Provide written instructions.

In an emergency, it may not be practical to disconnect and shake before each puff.

How this recommendation was developed


Based on clinical experience and expert opinion (informed by evidence, where available), with particular reference to the following source(s):

  • Barry and O'Callaghan 19941
  • Cyr et al.19912
  • Laube et al. 20113
  • National Asthma Council Australia 20084
  • Rau et al.19965

In clinical settings, when delivering salbutamol by pressurised metered-dose inhaler for patients with acute asthma:

  • Use a spacer.
  • Shake the puffer before firing each dose into the spacer.

Table. Using pressurised metered-dose inhalers in acute asthma

Administration of salbutamol by health professionals for a patient with acute asthma

  1. Use a salbutamol pressurised metered-dose inhaler (100 microg/actuation) with a spacer that has already been prepared (see note).
  2. Shake inhaler and insert upright into spacer.
  3. Place mouthpiece between the person’s teeth and ask them to seal lips firmly around mouthpiece.
  4. Fire one puff into the spacer.
  5. Tell person to take 4 breaths in and out of the spacer.
  6. Remove the spacer from mouth. Shake the inhaler after each puff before actuating again. (This can be done without detaching the pressurised metered-dose inhaler from the spacer.)


The process is repeated until the total dose is given. Different doses are recommended for patients and carers giving asthma first aid in the community.

New plastic spacers should be washed with detergent to remove electrostatic charge (and labelled), so they are ready for use when needed. In an emergency situation, if a pre-treated spacer is not available, prime the spacer before use by firing at least 10 puffs of salbutamol into the spacer. (This is an arbitrary number of actuations in the absence of evidence that would enable a precise guideline.)

Priming or washing spacers to reduce electrostatic charge before using for the first time is only necessary for standard plastic spacers. Treatment to reduce electrostatic charge is not necessary for polyurethane/antistatic polymer spacers (e.g. Able A2A, AeroChamber Plus, La Petite E-Chamber, La Grande E-Chamber) or disposable cardboard spacers (e.g. DispozABLE, LiteAire).

For small children who cannot form a tight seal with their lips around the spacer mouthpiece, attach a well-fitted mask to the spacer.

Last reviewed version 2.0

Asset ID: 62

How this recommendation was developed


Based on clinical experience and expert opinion (informed by evidence, where available), with particular reference to the following source(s):

  • Barry and O'Callaghan 19941
  • Cyr et al.19912
  • Laube et al. 20113
  • Rau et al.19965

Advise all patients using inhaled corticosteroids to rinse their mouth with water and spit after each dose, if possible.

How this recommendation was developed


Based on clinical experience and expert opinion (informed by evidence, where available), with particular reference to the following source(s):

  • National Asthma Council Australia, 20084
  • Rachelefsky et al. 20076
  • Yokoyama et al. 20077

More information

Correct use of inhaler devices

Checking and correcting inhaler technique is essential to effective asthma management.

Most patients with asthma or COPD do not use their inhalers properly,8, 9,1010, 11 and most have not had their technique checked or corrected by a health professional.

Incorrect inhaler technique when using maintenance treatments increases the risk of severe flare-ups and hospitalisation for people with asthma or COPD.8, 9, 12, 13, 14, 15

Poor asthma symptom control is often due to incorrect inhaler technique.16, 17

Incorrect inhaler technique when using inhaled corticosteroids increases the risk of local side effects like dysphonia and oral thrush.

The steps for using an inhaler device correctly differ between brands. Checklists of correct steps for each inhaler type and how-to videos are available from the National Asthma Council website.

Last reviewed version 2.0

Technical notes: pressurised metered-dose inhalers with spacers

Manufacturers of most pressurised metered-dose delivery devices recommend shaking the device before actuating. The physical characteristics of each formulation, including the effects of shaking, differ widely,2 but for simplicity it is best always to recommend shaking of pressurised metered-dose inhalers.

Pressurised metered-dose inhalers (except for those that are breath-actuated) can be used with a spacer. When a spacer is used with a pressurised metered-dose inhaler, delivery of the medicine to the patient’s airways is maximised when the patient takes a slow, deep breath from the spacer after each actuation.15 Multiple actuations of a pressurised metered-dose inhaler into a spacer can reduce the amount of respirable medicine available because aerosol particles can agglomerate into larger particles or become attached to the spacer walls.1

Therefore, the ideal way to deliver inhaled medicines via pressurised metered-dose inhaler and spacer is to shake the device, ask the person to breathe out all the way into the spacer, actuate a single puff into the spacer, and have the person immediately take a slow deep breath from the spacer, then hold their breath for 5 seconds. This process should be repeated until the total intended number of actuations is taken. Patients should be trained to follow these instructions when using their inhalers. Inhaling slowly with a single breath maximises delivery of the medicine to the lungs and minimises deposition in the upper airways when using a manually actuated pressurised metered-dose inhaler with or without a spacer, or when using a breath-actuated pressurised metered-dose inhaler.3 However, slow breathing may not be possible for patients with acute asthma. Tidal breathing through the spacer (e.g. four breaths in and out without removing the spacer) is used in acute asthma and for very young children. First aid instructions should include how to use inhaler and spacer.

In practice, optimal delivery of inhaled medicines involves a balance between maximising the proportion of respirable medicine and maximising efficiency of inhalation by the patient within real-world constraints. The optimal delivery of salbutamol in real-world circumstances is not well defined. For day-to-day use of salbutamol, most adults gain sufficient relief from symptoms when using a pressurised metered-dose inhaler on its own. A spacer may only be needed during a flare-up. By contrast, the use of a spacer is always recommended for inhaled corticosteroids delivered by manually actuated pressurised metered-dose inhalers, to reduce the risk of local adverse effects and increase delivery to the airways.

Many available in vitro studies of aerosol particle deposition in the airways were performed using older CFC-propelled formulations, which are now obsolete. Similar studies have not been performed for current non-CFC pressurised metered-dose inhalers.

Last reviewed version 2.0

Administration of inhaled medicines in children: 1-5 years

To use inhaler devices correctly, parents and children need training in inhaler technique and in the care and cleaning of inhalers and spacers.

Children need careful supervision when taking their inhaled medicines (e.g. at preschool), especially when using a reliever for acute asthma symptoms. 

Types of inhalers suitable for preschool children

Preschool children cannot use pressurised metered-dose inhalers properly unless a spacer is attached (with mask when necessary), because it is difficult for them to coordinate inspiratory effort with actuating the device.18 Note that breath-actuated pressurised metered-dose inhalers cannot be used with a spacer.

Dry-powder inhalers are usually ineffective for preschool children because they cannot generate sufficient inspiratory air flow.18

Drug delivery is very variable in young children with any type of inhaler, including pressurised metered dose inhalers and spacers.19 Filter studies have shown high day-to-day variability in delivered doses in preschool children.18 This variation might explain fluctuations in effectiveness, even if the child’s parents have been trained to use the device correctly.

Table. Types of inhaler devices for delivering asthma and COPD medicines Opens in a new window Please view and print this figure separately:

Pressurised metered-dose inhalers plus spacers for relievers

During acute wheezing episodes, delivery of short-acting beta2 agonist to airways is more effective with a pressurised metered-dose inhaler plus spacer than with a nebuliser.18 In older children, salbutamol has also been associated with a greater increase in heart rate when delivered by nebuliser than when delivered by pressurised metered-dose inhaler plus spacer.20

When administering salbutamol to relieve asthma symptoms in a preschool child, the standard recommendation is to shake the inhaler, actuate one puff at a time into the spacer and have the child take 4–6 breaths in and out of the spacer (tidal breathing).21 Fewer breaths may suffice; in children with asthma aged 2–7 years (not tested during an acute asthma episode), the number of tidal breaths needed to inhale salbutamol adequately from a spacer has been estimated at 2 breaths for small-volume spacers, 2 breaths for a spacer made from a 500-mL modified soft drink bottle, and 3 breaths for a large (Volumatic) spacer.22

Face masks for infants

When using a spacer with face mask (e.g. for an infant too young or uncooperative to be able to use a mouthpiece), effective delivery of medicine to the airways depends on a tight seal around the face.

When masks are used for inhaled corticosteroids, there is a risk of exposure to eyes and skin if the seal over the mouth and nose is not adequate. Parents should be advised to wash the child's face after administering inhaled corticosteroids by mask.

Babies are unlikely to inhale enough medicine while crying.20 The use of a spacer and face mask for a crying infant may require patience and skill: the child can be comforted (e.g. held by a parent, in own pram, or sitting on the floor) while the mask is kept on, and the actuation carefully timed just before the next intake of breath. Most infants will tolerate the spacer and mask eventually. The child may be more likely to accept the spacer and mask if allowed to handle them first (and at other times), if the devices are personalised (e.g. with stickers), or if the mask has a scent associated with the mother (e.g. lip gloss). The use of a spacer with a coloured valve allows parents to see the valve move as the child breathes in and out.

Last reviewed version 2.0

Administration of inhaled medicines in children: 6 years and over

Parents, carers and children need training to use inhaler devices correctly, including inhaler technique, and care and cleaning of inhalers and spacers.

School-aged children (depending on the child’s age, ability, and with individualised training) can learn to use a range of inhaler types, including manually actuated pressurised metered-dose inhalers with spacers, breath-actuated pressurised metered-dose inhalers (e.g. Autohaler), and dry-powder inhalers (e.g. Accuhaler, Turbuhaler).23, 24, 25, 26, 27

Table. Types of inhaler devices for delivering asthma and COPD medicines Opens in a new window Please view and print this figure separately:

A pressurised metered-dose inhaler and spacer is an appropriate first choice for most children.25

School-aged children are unlikely to use their inhaler device correctly without careful training and repeated checking.28

Last reviewed version 2.0



  1. Barry PW, O'Callaghan C. Multiple actuations of salbutamol MDI into a spacer device reduce the amount of drug recovered in the respirable range. Eur Respir J. 1994; 7: 1707-1709. Available from:
  2. Cyr TD, Graham SJ, Li KY, Levering EG. Low first-spray drug content in albuterol metered-dose inhalers. Pharm Res. 1991; 8: 658-660. Available from:
  3. Laube BL, Janssens HM, de Jongh FHC, et al. What the pulmonary specialist should know about the new inhalation therapies. Eur Respir J. 2011; 37: 1308-1417. Available from:
  4. National Asthma Council Australia. Inhaler technique in adults with asthma or COPD. An information paper for health professionals. National Asthma Council Australia, Melbourne, 2008. Available from:
  5. Rau JL, Restrepo RD, Deshpande V. Inhalation of single vs multiple metered-dose bronchodilator actuations from reservoir devices : An in vitro study. Chest. 1996; 109: 969-974. Available from:
  6. Rachelefsky GS, Liao Y, Faruqi R. Impact of inhaled corticosteroid-induced oropharyngeal adverse events: results from a meta-analysis. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2007; 98: 225-38. Available from:
  7. Yokoyama H, Yamamura Y, Ozeki T, et al. Effects of mouth washing procedures on removal of budesonide inhaled by using Turbuhaler. Yakugaku Zasshi. 2007; 127: 1245-1249. Available from:
  8. The Inhaler Error Steering Committee,, Price, D., Bosnic-Anticevich, S., et al. Inhaler competence in asthma: common errors, barriers to use and recommended solutions. Respir Med. 2013; 107: 37-46. Available from:
  9. Bjermer, L.. The importance of continuity in inhaler device choice for asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Respiration; international review of thoracic diseases. 2014; 88: 346-52. Available from:
  10. Basheti, I A, Armour, C L, Bosnic-Anticevich, S Z, Reddel, H K. Evaluation of a novel educational strategy, including inhaler-based reminder labels, to improve asthma inhaler technique. Patient Educ Couns. 2008; 72: 26-33. Available from:
  11. Bosnic-Anticevich, S. Z., Sinha, H., So, S., Reddel, H. K.. Metered-dose inhaler technique: the effect of two educational interventions delivered in community pharmacy over time. The Journal of asthma : official journal of the Association for the Care of Asthma. 2010; 47: 251-6. Available from:
  12. Melani AS, Bonavia M, Cilenti V, et al. Inhaler mishandling remains common in real life and is associated with reduced disease control. Respir Med. 2011; 105: 930-8. Available from:
  13. Levy ML, Dekhuijzen PN, Barnes PJ, et al. Inhaler technique: facts and fantasies. A view from the Aerosol Drug Management Improvement Team (ADMIT). NPJ Prim Care Respir Med. 2016; 26: 16017. Available from:
  14. Haughney, J., Price, D., Barnes, N. C., et al. Choosing inhaler devices for people with asthma: current knowledge and outstanding research needs. Respiratory medicine. 2010; 104: 1237-45. Available from:
  15. Giraud, V., Roche, N.. Misuse of corticosteroid metered-dose inhaler is associated with decreased asthma stability. The European respiratory journal. 2002; 19: 246-51. Available from:
  16. Harnett, C. M., Hunt, E. B., Bowen, B. R., et al. A study to assess inhaler technique and its potential impact on asthma control in patients attending an asthma clinic. J Asthma. 2014; 51: 440-5.
  17. Hardwell, A., Barber, V., Hargadon, T., et al. Technique training does not improve the ability of most patients to use pressurised metered-dose inhalers (pMDIs). Prim Care Respir J. 2011; 20: 92-6. Available from:
  18. Brand PL, Baraldi E, Bisgaard H, et al. Definition, assessment and treatment of wheezing disorders in preschool children: an evidence-based approach. Eur Respir J. 2008; 32: 1096-1110. Available from:
  19. Schultz A, Sly PD, Zhang G, et al. Incentive device improves spacer technique but not clinical outcome in preschool children with asthma. J Paediatr Child Health. 2012; 48: 52-6. Available from:
  20. Schuh, S., Johnson, D. W., Stephens, D., et al. Comparison of albuterol delivered by a metered dose inhaler with spacer versus a nebulizer in children with mild acute asthma. The Journal of pediatrics. 1999; 135: 22-7. Available from:
  21. National Asthma Council Australia. Kids' First Aid for Asthma. National Asthma Council Australia, Melbourne, 2011. Available from:
  22. Schultz A, Le Souëf TJ, Venter A, et al. Aerosol inhalation from spacers and valved holding chambers requires few tidal breaths for children. Pediatrics. 2010; 126: e1493-8. Available from:
  23. Gillette, C., Rockich-Winston, N., Kuhn, J. A., et al. Inhaler technique in children with asthma: a systematic review. Acad Pediatr. 2016; 16: 605-15. Available from:
  24. Capanoglu, M., Dibek Misirlioglu, E., Toyran, M., et al. Evaluation of inhaler technique, adherence to therapy and their effect on disease control among children with asthma using metered dose or dry powder inhalers. J Asthma. 2015; 52: 838-45. Available from:
  25. Ram, F S F, Brocklebank, D D M, White, J, et al. Pressurised metered dose inhalers versus all other hand-held inhaler devices to deliver beta-2 agonist bronchodilators for non-acute asthma. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2002; Issue 2: .
  26. Nikander, K, Turpeinen, M, Pelkonen, A S, et al. True adherence with the Turbuhaler in young children with asthma. Arch Dis Child. 2011; 96: 168-173.
  27. Pedersen, S., Mortensen, S.. Use of different inhalation devices in children. Lung. 1990; 168 Suppl: 653-7. Available from:
  28. Sleath, B, Ayala, G X, Gillette, C, et al. Provider demonstration and assessment of child device technique during pediatric asthma visits. Pediatrics. 2011; 127: 642-648.