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Types of COPD Inhalers

Inhalers contain medications, taken by breathing in, and are used for the treatment of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). There are many different types of inhaler, which makes getting one confusing. This article provides some information on the different types of medicines used in inhalers, inhaler types and some information about inhalers in general.

The Medicines in Inhalers:

Inhaler medicines are usually consumed by breathing in, meaning you need a smaller dose compared to taking a tablet or liquid by mouth. By breathing in these medications, the airways and lungs are relaxed while the rest gets into the body through the bloodstream.

With inhalers being produced by different companies, it means there are lots of inhalers available on prescription, all coming in different colors. Therefore, it is important to know the name of your inhaler and its color as this is important when seeing a doctor who doesn’t have your medical record.

Types of Inhalers:

When treating COPD, there are a large number of inhalers available on prescription. Inhalers can be grouped into short-acting bronchodilators, long-acting bronchodilators, and steroids. However, there are some inhalers which contain two type medicine.

Short-acting bronchodilator Inhalers: Inhalers with bronchodilators are commonly prescribes as they help to relax the muscles in the airways, opening them up as wide as possible. They are sometimes called relievers. They include:

  • Beta-agonist inhalers- E.g. terbutaline
  • Antimuscarinic inhalers- E.g. ipratropium

The short-acting bronchodilator effect lasts 5-15 minutes with a beta-agonist inhaler, and within 30-40 minutes with an antimuscarinic inhaler.

Long-acting bronchodilator Inhalers: This acts in a similar way as the short-acting inhalers, the only difference is that each dose lasts 12 hours compared to the former’s 40 minutes. They provide a lasting solution when symptoms remain after using short-acting inhalers. They include:

  • Beta-agonist inhalers- E.g. formoterol
  • Antimuscarinic inhalers- E.g. tiotropium.

Steroid inhalers: This is usually used in addition to the long-acting bronchodilator inhaler if you experience a severe COPD or regular flashes of symptoms. They help to reduce inflammation. The most inhaled steroids are:

  • E.g. Asmabec®, Beclazone®
  • E.g. Easyhaler Budesonide®
  • E.g. Alvesco®.
  • This is a yellow or orange colored inhaler, e.g. Flixotide®
  • E.g. Asmanex Twisthaler®.

Steroid inhalers may not have an effect on your symptoms, but they help to prevent flare-ups. They are also known as preventers.

There are also combination inhalers which usually consist of steroids and either short-acting or long-acting beta-agonist. Some of these inhalers include:

  • Fostair® (formoterol and beclometasone).
  • Seretide® (salmeterol and fluticasone) which is a purple-coloured inhaler.
  • Symbicort® (formoterol and budesonide).

Combination inhalers are mainly used when people experience severe flare-ups. However, it is better to use a single inhaler device.



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