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Are You Doing This After Using Your Inhaler?

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by Cindy Cho, PharmD Candidate Class of 2019,
The University of Arizona College of Pharmacy

Are You Doing This Important Step After Using Your Inhaler?

If you use an inhaler for a breathing condition, like asthma, you may have been told by your doctor that you will need to rinse your mouth with water and spit after you use your inhaler. It may seem like a cumbersome additional step, especially since it already takes time out of your day to use your inhaler, so why is it important to spend time to rinse and spit after using your inhaler?

Not All Inhalers Require You to Rinse and Spit

Just to clarify, you don’t need to rinse and spit with every inhaler. There are numerous inhalers on the market with different active ingredients and different purposes (For more on this, refer to this post on the difference between rescue and controller inhalers: (https://news.wellrx.com/2016/08/18/breathing-condition-meet-lifesaver/).

However, a common type of inhaler that does require you to rinse your mouth after each use is called an inhaled corticosteroid (ICS) inhaler. ICS inhalers contain small amounts of steroids to help people breathe easier. Other types of inhalers have different active ingredients (e.g., albuterol, formoterol, tiotropium), so it is not necessary to rinse your mouth after using those.

Common ICS Inhalers

Examples of common ICS inhalers, or combination inhalers that contain a corticosteroid, are:

  • Advair Diskus & Advair HFA (fluticasone/salmeterol)
  • Aerobid (flunisolide)
  • Alvesco, Omnaris, Zetonna (ciclesonide)
  • Arnuity Ellipta (fluticasone furoate)
  • Asmanex (mometasone)
  • Azmacort (triamcinolone)
  • Dulera (mometasone/formoterol)
  • Flovent, Flovent HFA (fluticasone)
  • Pulmicort, Rhinocort (budesonide)
  • Qnasl, Qvar (beclomethasone)
  • Symbicort (budesonide/formoterol)

If you are using one of these inhalers or have been told that your inhaler contains a steroid in it, you will need to rinse your mouth with water and spit after each use.

Why do I Have to Rinse and Spit with ICS Inhalers?

ICS inhalers have a small amount of corticosteroid medication that reduces inflammation in your bronchial tubes and ultimately open your airways to help you breathe easier.1 These medications can be delivered through metered dose inhalers, dry powder inhalers, or through a nebulizer. When you breathe in your steroid inhaler medication, a small amount of steroid can stick to your mouth and throat as it makes its way into your lungs to help you breathe. If this small amount of steroid is not rinsed out from the inside of your mouth or throat, it can cause a fungal infection known as thrush.2

What You Need to Know About Thrush3

Oral thrush in adults generally looks like thick, white or cream-colored spots inside the mouth. The inside lining of your mouth may appear swollen and slightly red and may feel uncomfortable or a burning sensation. The good thing is that thrush is a treatable infection. Your doctor will prescribe an antifungal medicine in the form of a tablet, gel, lozenge, or mouthwash to help treat it. The better news is that this condition is preventable with proper rinsing and spitting.  

What You Can Do

Make sure to rinse your mouth with water and spit after using your ICS inhaler to prevent thrush. Another way to make it easier for you to incorporate rinsing your mouth after using your ICS inhaler is to brush your teeth after using your inhaler. As a friendly reminder, your ICS inhaler should be used on a routine basis, unless your doctor tells you otherwise, even when your breathing seems better. These inhalers will help maintain your breathing over time to prevent breathing-related complications and keep you out of the hospital.

References:

  1. Barnes PJ. Inhaled Corticosteroids. Pharmaceuticals (Basel). 2010;3(3):514-540. Published 2010 Mar 8. doi:10.3390/ph3030514
  2. Shuto H, Nagata M, Terashi Y, Yamaguchi M, Takizawa T, Shuto C, Watanabe K, Tosaka K, Okano M, Noguchi H. Esophageal candidiasis as complication of inhaled steroid therapy. Arerugi 2003; 52(11)1053–1064
  3. Oral thrush – Symptoms and causes. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/oral-thrush/symptoms-causes/syc-20353533. Published March 8, 2018. Retrieved February 22, 2019.

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