Each type of inhaler has its own use, be it for short or long-term treatment of asthma, in adults or children.
These include metered-dose inhalers (MDIs), MDIs with a spacer, and dry powder inhalers. You will find out here about each of them, their specific colour and what they treat.
If you’re looking for a repeat supply of your Ventolin or Salbutamol inhaler, you can take our online assessment and our doctors will prescribe and dispatch your treatment the same day. Delivery within 24 or 72 hours via Day Lewis - our partner pharmacy.
Shape-wise, there are three types of asthma inhalers that are based on different systems. In terms of colours and drugs, the most common ones are the brown inhaler (for prevention) and the blue inhaler (for attacks of asthma and/or prevention).
The different existing systems of inhalers include metered-dose inhalers (MDIs), MDIs with a spacer, which gives more time to inhale the drug, and dry-powder inhalers – also known as breath-activated inhalers.
The standard metered-dose inhaler looks basically like the famous blue inhaler (e.g. Ventolin) and has been used for several decades. It consists of a sort of a small can fitted into a plastic body with a mouthpiece. Each time you press the canister into the boot, you deliver one dose of drug that you are to inhale at the same time.
This type of inhaler is also known as an evohaler.
In spite of it being the most commonly used inhaler, the MDI is too often misused by people who either forget to shake it before pressing, inhale at the wrong time or forget to hold their breath for long enough.
Metered-dose inhalers that come with a spacer make it easier to fully inhale the entire dose delivered when pumping the inhaler. The spacer is a sort of giant oval plastic container. On one end you insert your MDI and on the other end is the mouthpiece.
It means that you first release the medication into the spacer and then inhale it slowly from the plastic container through the mouthpiece. this delivers the dose straight to your lungs. The MDI with a spacer is particularly useful for people - and children with asthma – who lack good coordination to use the metered-dose inhaler alone.
The spacer should be washed and cleaned regularly as your saliva can make its walls sticky and prevent the medicine from flowing smoothly from one end to the other.
The spacer is also known as a chamber, depending on the brand you use.
This kind of inhaler uses just dry-powder and no propulsion system at all. All you have to do is take a deep, fast breath which will make you inhale a single dose. There are different types of asthma inhalers like this and they usually rely on a manual mechanism to insert one dose of dry-powder drug into the mouthpiece.
The most common systems are the turbohaler and the diskhaler. In both systems, you have to turn or twist the body until a “click” sound signals that a dose has been inserted and is ready to be inhaled.
This is the most common group of inhalers (also called reliever inhalers) which contain bronchodilator drugs, usually salbutamol. Bronchodilator simply means that the drug allows the airways in your lungs to dilate and let more air in.
Simply put, that’s because asthma is caused by an inflammation of your airways which then become swollen, thus leaving not much space for oxygen to travel around.
Blue inhalers are great short-acting treatments: they can relieve the symptoms of an asthma attack within minutes. They’re also commonly used as long-term treatment, following a specific prescription; e.g. 2-3 doses a day for a certain period of time (at least several months).
The brown inhaler (sometimes also red) is a prevention treatment to be taken every day. It contains steroids that reduce the inflammation in your lungs. Depending on how severe your symptoms are, your doctor might prescribe you more or less frequent doses.
An average treatment with the brown inhaler consists of about two doses per day, to be taken for several months.
Note that it can take somewhere between 2-6 weeks for the medication to be fully effective, so this is definitely a long-term treatment that can’t be used to relieve the symptoms of an attack.
On the upside, if you correctly follow your prescription, you may not need to use any inhaler later on in your life. However, note that just as with the blue inhaler, early treatment with the brown inhaler is crucial to get rid of asthma.
These are less common and come in a different colour, as they're usually green inhalers. They also belong to the class of bronchodilators, but whereas the blue inhaler class usually acts for up to 4 hours, the long-acting medication is effective for up to 12 hours. Salmeterol is one of the most common long-acting bronchodilators, along with Formoterol.
In some cases, preventive treatments combine long-acting bronchodilators with steroids, for instance if your symptoms are particularly difficult to control. Some of these combined treatments often come as purple inhalers.
The idea with all these colours is to help you choose the right one when you’re having an attack, rather than having to recognise the name of the medication on the inhaler. So when you need immediate relief of your symptoms – from breathlessness to acute asthma attack – go for the blue or purple inhaler.