What are Steroid Inhalers?

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  • Written By: Kasey James
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 02 April 2020
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Steroid inhalers are plastic tubes with mouthpieces that contain a pressurized metal canister holding steroid medication. Users press down on the canister to spray a fine mist of the steroid. The medication is then inhaled by the user. Steroid inhalers are used to control and prevent asthma attacks.

Steroid inhalers come in two forms; a metered dose inhaler (MDI) or dry powder inhaler (DPI). The MDI works by using a liquefied gas steroid medication that sprays out of a pressurized container. The DPI is a powder-based steroid medication that is inhaled strongly by the user. The powdered steroids break up into small particles that can be inhaled into the lungs.

All steroid inhalers have to be prescribed by a physician. They are usually prescribed to patients with chronic asthma. An effective inhaler may reduce the number of asthma attacks and help the patient to control her asthma. A steroid inhaler will not stop an asthma attack—they are used for prevention purposes only.

A physician will advise a patient on how often and when to use a steroid inhaler. Most people use steroid inhalers on a daily basis. Some patients use the inhaler two to four times a day. It generally takes a couple of weeks to see the benefits from the preventative steroid medication.


All medications may have side effects, but steroid inhalers have very few. Side effects from a steroid inhaler can include a sore throat, hoarseness or thrush. Thrush is a yeast infection in the mouth that can be detected by white spots on the tongue or roof of the mouth.

Thrush can be prevented by rinsing the mouth out after each inhaler use. Some patients, especially children, use a plastic tube called a spacer that connects to the inhaler. The use of a spacer can also help to prevent thrush. If thrush does occur, it is typically easily treated with a anti-fungal mouthwash.

Some patients may have concerns about using steroid inhalers. These kinds of steroids are different from anabolic steroids and are considered safe and effective. Pediatricians often prescribe them to children who suffer from asthma. They do not have addictive properties, but should be taken as directed.

Steroid inhalers are often covered by medical insurance. Without insurance coverage, they can be quite expensive. These inhalers are purchased from a prescription pharmacy. They usually come with the medication and the plastic cover. If a spacer is needed, it is most likely prescribed and purchased separately.


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