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Asthma health centre

Using spacer devices during more severe asthma attacks

BMJ Group Medical Reference

Introduction

This information is for parents of a child who has asthma. It tells you about using spacer devices to breathe in asthma medicine. It is based on the best and most up-to-date research.

Do they work?

Yes. Breathing in an asthma drug using a spacer is a good way to make sure the drug gets straight into the lungs, where it's needed.

A spacer is a plastic container that fits on to an inhaler. It makes it easier for your child to breathe in their medicine. Spacers seem to work just as well as a more complicated device called a nebuliser.

What are they?

Spacers

child-asthma-spacer-optimis_default.jpgA spacer is a device that helps your child to relax and breathe normally while still getting their medicine. It is a large plastic container, usually in two halves that slot together. At one end there is a mouthpiece, and at the other a hole where an inhaler fits in.

When you press the aerosol of the inhaler, a puff of drug is released into the container. Your child can then breathe it in through the mouthpiece at the other end. Here are tips for using a spacer.

A spacer gives your child more time to inhale the medicine. With a simple inhaler there is just one chance to breathe in the drug: when the aerosol is pressed down. A spacer holds the drug in a chamber so that your child can then breathe in the drug through the mouthpiece in his or her own time. With a spacer, the drug is also more likely to end up in the lungs, where it's supposed to go. With an ordinary inhaler, the medicine can stay in the throat if the inhaler isn't used correctly.

There are several different brands of spacers that fit different makes of inhalers. It is possible to fit a face mask onto some types of spacers, instead of a mouthpiece. This makes them useful for giving inhaled medicines to young children and babies.

Nebulisers

Nebulisers are sometimes used to help children take asthma drugs. A nebuliser is a device for breaking up asthma drugs into very tiny droplets before your child breathes them in. In theory, tiny droplets can get further into the lungs than the bigger droplets that come out of an inhaler.

The nebuliser is driven by a machine. It creates a mist of medicine that your child can breathe in through a mask. Some nebulisers use regular air to create the mist, while others use oxygen from a tank. Nebulisers are bulky but allow big doses of asthma drugs to be given. Your child will not have to coordinate pressing down and breathing in to use this machine.

You can use a spacer or nebuliser to take many different types of asthma drugs. Here we look at whether using a spacer is a good way for your child to take his or her treatment during a more severe asthma attack. To find out about other devices, see How to take asthma drugs.

Spacers and nebulisers can be used to give your child drugs like salbutamol and terbutaline, to quickly relieve the symptoms of an asthma attack. These medicines relax muscles in the airways so that the airways open up and your child can breathe more easily.

Last Updated: July 03, 2012
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.

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