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Asthma in Children: Helping a Child Use a Metered-Dose Inhaler and Mask Spacer


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The medicines used for asthma are often delivered through a metered-dose inhaler (MDI). Using an MDI with a mask spacer:

  • Helps a young child get an accurate dose of medicine.
  • Delivers most of a measured dose of medicine directly to your child's lungs.
  • Can help keep your child's asthma symptoms under control and allow your child to live an active life.
  • May prevent or reduce side effects of the medicine.
  • May let your child use less medicine than is found in a pill but get the same effect.
  • May result in the medicine working faster than a pill form.

A metered-dose inhaler (MDI) is a handheld device that delivers a measured dose of medicine directly to the lungs.

Using a spacer with an MDI is the most efficient way to get the most medicine to your child's lungs. A spacer works like a holding area for the medicine before your child breathes in. Using a spacer with the MDI may improve the delivery of the medicine and may help your child if he or she has problems with releasing the medicine and inhaling at the same time. A spacer should always be used with inhaled corticosteroids to avoid side effects.

A mask spacer is a spacer with a face mask at the end of the spacer. This is put over your child's mouth and nose. Mask spacers are used for young children who cannot use a spacer with a mouthpiece. They are usually needed for children from infancy through about age 5. But many children about age 2 and older do not like the mask. Encourage them to learn to use a standard spacer if they are willing to try it. Older children and adults who have problems using an MDI and spacer can also use a mask spacer.

Test Your Knowledge

Using an MDI with a mask spacer may make it easier for your child to get the medicine to his or her lungs.

True
False

Using a metered-dose inhaler (MDI) with a mask spacer is helpful because:

  • It provides a puff of medicine in an accurate, measured dose.
  • It can help keep your child's symptoms under control and allow him or her to stay active.
  • When an MDI with a mask spacer is used effectively, most of the medicine is delivered directly to your child's lungs and does not travel throughout the body. This may prevent or reduce side effects in the rest of your child's body.
  • Your child may be able to use less medicine than is found in a pill but get the same effect.
  • The medicine may work faster than a pill.

Test Your Knowledge

An MDI with a mask spacer may help your child avoid side effects of medicine.

True
False

Before using a metered-dose inhaler (MDI) with a mask spacer:

  1. Talk with your doctor to be sure that you know how to use the MDI and mask spacerClick here to see an illustration. correctly. Be sure your child uses them exactly as your doctor has prescribed.
  2. Depending on his or her age, teach your child how to check that he or she has the correct medicine. If your child uses several inhalers, put a label on each one so that he or she knows which one to use at the right time. Consider using different colors or stickers to help your child see the difference between medicines.
  3. Check the label of the inhaler medicine to see how many inhalations should be in the canister. If you and your child know how many breaths he or she can take, the inhaler can be replaced before it runs out. Learn how to test the canister to estimate how much medicine is left. Your doctor or pharmacist can help you and your child with this.

Test Your Knowledge

After spraying one puff of medicine into the mask spacer, your child takes one deep breath.

True
False

Now that you have read this information, you are ready to help your child use a metered-dose inhaler with a mask spacer.

Talk with your doctor

If you have questions about this information, take it with you when you visit your doctor.

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ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerJohn Pope, MD - Pediatrics
Specialist Medical ReviewerLora J. Stewart, MD - Allergy and Immunology
Last RevisedMarch 14, 2013

eMedicineHealth Medical Reference from Healthwise

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