What is an Inhaler Spacer?

N. Swensson

An inhaler spacer is a device which makes it easier to inhale medications, most often those used to treat asthma. The device is often used to administer asthma medications to children who might struggle to use an inhaler properly. When an inhaler spacer is attached to a pressurized asthma inhaler or metered dose inhaler, it holds the medication inside until the patient is ready to breathe it in and allows for a slower inhale. An inhaler spacer should be used and cleaned properly for best results.

Spacers can be used to make metered dose inhalers easier to use.
Spacers can be used to make metered dose inhalers easier to use.

Using an inhaler spacer can help more of the medication reach the lungs instead of being left on the tongue or back of the throat, where it will not be effective and can cause irritation. Some types of inhalers, such as dry-powder inhalers, should not be used with a spacer in most cases. Some inhalers might come with a spacer, or a separate one could later be attached.

Inhalers are most often used to treat asthma.
Inhalers are most often used to treat asthma.

When a metered dose inhaler is used without a spacer, the patient has to inhale the medication immediately as it is released from the inhaler. It can sometimes be difficult to get all of the medication into the lungs, especially for young children. Also, the medication must often be inhaled quickly, which can cause it to stick on the tongue and in the back of the throat instead of reaching the lungs. If this happens, it could irritate the throat and even cause infection. A spacer can hold the medication so it can be inhaled more slowly.

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It is important to use a spacer properly so that it is effective. The inhaler should first be shaken a few times, then a spacer can be attached. Once the cap is removed and the inhaler is placed in the mouth, a patient should close his or her lips around it completely. Depressing the top of the inhaler releases medication into the inhaler spacer. The medication can then be slowly inhaled — some spacers have a whistle that sounds if the person is inhaling too quickly. The patient should then hold his or her breath for a moment, then exhale.

An inhaler spacer will usually need to be cleaned on a regular basis. Once the spacer has been taken apart, it can be cleaned with warm, soapy water and then rinsed. It usually is best to let the the device air dry before it's put back together — towel drying can create static inside the inhaler spacer chamber. In most cases, boiling water and cleaning products should not be used to clean a spacer.

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