How do I properly use my dry inhaler?

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Dry Inhaler

Dear Coach,

I just finished a pulmonary rehabilitation class and noticed today that my incidence of shortness of breath had decreased. However, I am still having trouble inhaling my new dry powder long acting inhaler. Everyone teaches pursed lip breathing, but what exercises will help with taking deep breaths through my mouth? I feel like I do not get the dry powder into my lungs and it only stays in my mouth.

Powder Puff

Dear Powder Puff,

As COPD progresses it is often difficult to take deep breaths. While it may seem counter-intuitive, COPD is actually a disease that limits your output of air, not taking it in. Until you can successfully empty your lungs, you will not be able to take as much air in; kind of like you can only fill a glass so far. Pursed lip breathing does help empty your lungs and it also helps rid you of excessive CO2 buildup. I also do a modified version of pursed lip breathing where I take a large breath through my mouth and slowly try emptying my lungs as much as possible. At first, I find I can only exhale a small volume but with continued tries I find I am progressively taking deeper breaths. I do this several times a day. This may not work with everyone because it would be dependent on how severe your disease process is; also, because of hyper-inflation of the lungs the breathing muscles aren't nearly as effective as they could be.

As for dry powder inhalers; they can be problematic for many as they just don't have enough lung function to get the powder where it needs to be. What I find that works for me is: first I do the open mouth breathing exercise or pursed lip breathing first and then instead of holding my mouth tightly around the inhaler, I hold my mouth a little looser around the mouth piece and "huff" in the medication then follow by immediately taking as many follow-up huffs as I am able before taking in another breath. I want to stress that there is no scientific evidence to prove that this works but I can say it works for me.

Another thing I have tried that is effective (and recommended by my doctor) is I use a bi-pap set to high settings (also recommended by my doctor) 20 minutes in the morning and twenty minutes before bed before using my dry powder inhalers. Interestingly enough, I had a problem with waking up during the night feeling out of breath and this pretty much solved it and I generally felt like I was able to take deeper breaths afterwards.

Hope this helps,

The COPD Coach


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  • Thank you for another great article COPD Coach!
  • Thank you for your insight on the inhaler.
  • You do have to concentrate before using the dry inhaler, it's nothing like just swallowing a pill, If you dont pay attention you'll have a mouthful of powder.
  • I was faced with the same problem when I shifted from my maintenance MDI inhaler to a corresponding dry powder inhaler. I take a few puffs of the MDI emergency inhaler through the spacer. That opens up the bronchial sacs. I follow it up with five minutes of PLB. This helps me to calm down and concentrate. Then I suck in the dry powder and hold it in for a count of ten

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