Topic Overview

When you use inhaled
asthma medicine, you usually use a device that
delivers the medicine directly to your lungs. Different types of delivery
systems are available. And one type may be more suitable for certain people,
age groups, or medicine than another. The following table describes how asthma
medicines may be delivered.

Types of asthma medicines
Delivery system and
Age group What to think about

Use a
metered-dose inhaler (MDI) with:

  • Beta2-agonists.
  • Corticosteroids.
  • Anticholinergics.
  • Adults and children
  • Doctors recommend the use of a
    spacer with a metered-dose inhaler (MDI). The spacer
    is attached to the MDI. A spacer may deliver the medicine to your child’s lungs
    better than an inhaler alone and, for many people, is easier to use than an MDI
    alone. Using a spacer with inhaled
    corticosteroid medicine can help reduce their side effects and
    result in less use of oral corticosteroid medicine.
  • A spacer is recommended for children age 5 and older.
  • A spacer and a face mask are recommended for children younger than
  • Using a spacer with an MDI may be just as effective as and less
    expensive than a nebulizer and can reduce the risk of an overdose.
  • If you don’t use a spacer, you need to trigger a puff of medicine
    and inhale at the same time.

Use a
dry powder inhaler (DPI) with:

  • Beta2-agonists.
  • Corticosteroids.
  • Children 4 years and older and
  • How well it works may depend on how well
    you breathe in.
  • Your doctor determines the amount of medicine you
    use based on how much air you can breathe in. It also may be different than the
    amount used in some MDIs.
  • DPIs may be easy to use, but they may be
    difficult to use during an
    asthma attack because you need to be able to breathe
    well to get the best effect.

Use a
nebulizer with:

  • Beta2-agonists.
  • Cromolyn.
  • Anticholinergics.
  • Any age that cannot use an MDI with a
  • A nebulizer uses a
    face mask or
    mouthpiece to deliver the medicine.
  • The
    medicine can be given over a long period of time.
  • Nebulizers may be
    helpful for those who are ill, have serious difficulty breathing, or have
    trouble using an inhaler-especially infants, very young children, and older
  • A nebulizer is not very precise in delivering medicine, and
    there is a risk of getting too much medicine (overdose).
  • A nebulizer needs electricity to turn the medicine into a fine mist. Some nebulizers have a large compressor that does this. Other ones are portable and come with batteries.


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD – Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Martin J. Gabica, MD – Family Medicine

Current as ofMarch 25, 2017