Cleaning Inhalers – Helps to Prevent Infection
Dear Dr. Mahler:
I recently read that I should clean my inhalers to make sure that they work correctly and to prevent infections. However, I can’t find any information that describes how to do this. I use Symbicort inhaler and Spiriva powder every day and ProAir as my rescue inhaler. What do you recommend?
Gerard from San Juan, Puerto Rico
You ask an important question about keeping inhaler devices clean and working properly. Unfortunately, this topic – cleaning inhalers – has not received a lot of attention.
As I am sure that others with COPD have the same question or concern as you do, here is information for cleaning inhalers as well as nebulizers.
Metered-dose inhaler (abbreviated MDI)
When you press down on the top of the chamber, the aerosol spray comes out of the metering chamber and enters the nozzle (see above). There is concern that the spray might accumulate over time and clog the nozzle. Cleaning the actuator with running water and air drying is recommended periodically to reduce this possibility.
Dry-powder inhaler (abbreviated DPI)
Diagram of metered-dose inhaler
A clean, dry cloth should be used to wipe away any powder from the mouthpiece. This should minimize any contamination with bacterial or fungus. This should be done periodically.
Soft mist inhaler (abbreviated SMI)
All that is required with the soft mist inhaler is to clean the mouthpiece with a damp cloth. It is recommended that cleaning be performed periodically.
The main source of nebulizer contamination is the patient. People of all ages tend to drool into the mouthpiece which explains why bacteria are frequently found in the reservoir (cup) after use.
Soft mist inhaler
Any liquid that remains in the cup after you have finished inhaling leaves a wet environment with potential for growth of bacteria. This has led to the recommendation that the nebulizer be rinsed, washed, and air dried after each use.
Here are specific recommendations: Detach the medicine cup and mouthpiece from the tubing. Wash the medicine cup and mouthpiece with warm soapy water and rinse them with water. Place the equipment on a clean towel to fully air dry. Make sure to do this after each treatment and daily.
Hand held nebulizer
Here is a way to disinfect the mouthpiece and cup every other day. Mix a solution of 1 part distilled white vinegar and 3 parts warm tap water in a clean bowl. Soak the nebulizer parts (except the tubing and mask) for 60 minutes, then rinse thoroughly and air dry.
- Don’t wash the tubing. If it gets wet, replace the tubing. Also, don’t put any parts of the nebulizer into a dishwasher to clean it because the heat can warp the plastic. Tubing should be changed periodically, usually every two weeks.