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So, inhalers don

So, Inhalers Don’t Work if They’re Empty…

Yep, found this one out the hard way.

Inhalers don’t work when they are empty.

I was in San Antonio for work (hellllooooo humidity!) And was having a tough time with my asthma. I thought it was probably that pesky humidity (hot, humid air is an asthma trigger for me.)

But I noticed I was still having a hard time breathing in my air conditioned hotel room. Usually, if I am out sight seeing in a hot humid area, and go back to my air conditioned hotel room, I will feel better.

But even the AC did not help this time

It was night and time to use my maintenance (or controller) inhaler, so I took 2 puffs. Nothing seemed different but I decided just to check and see how many puffs I had left… know, just out of curiosity – and it was empty.


Yeah. And I still had 3 more days left for my work trip and no controller inhaler. I wondered, how long has my inhaler been empty? Is that why my lungs were being a little cranky?

What’s the big deal if my controller inhaler was empty? Well, maintenance or controller inhalers “control” swelling in your lungs – that’s where they get their name! They are inhaled corticosteroids.

How does a controller inhaler work?

Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), says:

“Inhaled corticosteroids prevent and reduce airway swelling. They also reduce mucus in the lungs. They are the most effective long-term control medicines available. Corticosteroids are not the same as anabolic steroids that are taken by some athletes and banned in many athletic events.”

Inhaled corticosteroids (ICS) are different from systemic corticosteroids (like prednisone tablets). Since ICS are inhaled (via your daily asthma inhaler), the medicine goes right to your lungs. With systemic corticosteroids, the medicine is swallowed and goes through your whole body before it makes it to your lungs. So, it affects many systems in your body.

So, by taking my controller inhaler every day, it helps protect my lungs from swelling and damage. If I am consistent on taking my controller inhaler every morning and every night, I don’t have the need to use my rescue inhaler as often.

But, your controller inhaler actually has to have medicine in it. Sigh.

Why am I telling you this? Well, this would be a good time to check the counter on YOUR inhaler. Go ahead. I’ll wait…..

Well, how many puffs were left on your counter? Is it time for a refill?

Lucky for me, my pharmacy enrolled me in a new program where they send text alerts.

This is what my text will look like:

“It’s time to refill XXXX1234 at ‘__________’ pharmacy. Reply 1 to fill, 9 for no more reminders.”

Of course I need reminders! Usually, I’ll have to take a quick peek at my label and figure out which inhaler needs to be refilled. My controller? My rescue inhaler? Another prescription?

I reply with “1”, and it will send another text letting me know that my refill is being processed.

Then I can just pick it up on my way home from work.

Take a peek at your inhaler and make sure you have enough puffs left. Especially if you are going on a trip to a nice, hot humid city. Which is exactly where I am headed next week for another work trip.

Only this time, I made sure to pick up my new inhaler BEFORE my trip.

Look out Milwaukee, here I come!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • judyhall
    3 years ago

    how do you check an inhaler if it does not have a count down meter on it
    putting it in water to see how it floats is not very reliable

  • Leon Lebowitz, RRT moderator
    3 years ago

    Hi judyhall and thanks for posting your question. Inhalers without counters pose a challenge – it’s not the easiest thing to figure out how much is left. There are ways you can keep track, however. You can shake the canister, they feel different when they’re full, half full and approaching empty. You can also gauge the contents by how often you use the inhaler and then start from the day you began using it. Most last approximately a month so you should be able to gauge accordingly.
    I’m hopeful others in the community will chime in and provide some information based on their experiences as well.
    All the best,
    Leon (site moderator)

  • janetg
    3 years ago

    I’ve wondered how long I can go without taking one of my maintenance inhalers. Two months ago I was in Mississippi (unbelievably humid) when I was ‘surprised’ to discover that I had packed my empty inhaler. I freaked out and went to the drugstore and called my doctor and ended up getting a new inhaler (paying full price of course). But what would’ve happened if I just missed a week? Would there be a rebound effect?

  • Leon Lebowitz, RRT moderator
    3 years ago

    Hi janetg and thanks for your question. Although we cannot provide medical advice over the internet (for your own safety), your concern certainly warrants a comment. It’s not a good idea to adjust your medications on your own. Although I understand it must’ve been frustrating, you made a very prudent decision to get the new inhaler(s) while you were away. Compliance with your medication regimen is an important part of managing your asthma and its symptoms.
    All the best,
    Leon (site moderator)

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