Asthma spacers – why use one, brands and my experience with them as a mum caring for a young child with asthma.
Note: Written by Alita Howlett founder of Bello Alito and designer of the Asthma Management System, My Asthma Bag. Originally written as a blog post 11 April, 2011. I try to keep this up to date when new products come onto the market.
Why use an asthma spacer?
Asthma spacers help deliver the prescribed standard metered dose inhaler (MDI) or”puffer” asthma medications into the lungs. Asthma spacers gives the user the chance to breathe in the medication, so it travels into the airways where the medication is designed to go. There are two types of spacers, small and large – referring to the size of the chamber.
How to choose an asthma spacer?
The age of the child determines the type of asthma spacer. Some have face masks and some do not. Young children may have difficulties breathing just through their mouth and not their nose, so the spacer with a face mask is best. Sizes of the face masks vary also depending on the manufacturer, usually – infant, child and adult sizes.
Types of Asthma Spacers
I preferred to use the yellow spacer with a teddy bear on it (AeroChamber Plus) when my daughter was younger, it had a soft face mask and didn’t look overwhelming. I found it easy to see the valve move when counting breaths taken.
The benefit of the larger volumatic asthma spacer for an older child is that they are effective, simple to clean and not as expensive to buy. The Volumatic Spacer was removed from sale when the smaller spacers came onto the market. It was later returned to market in 2006. Large volume spacers are recommended after the age of 5.
Another spacer called the ABLE Spacer by WyMedical has a unique design with a whistle that helps with the correct delivery of medication. The whistle is a built-in coaching signal that helps to ensure that the correct amount of breath is drawn into the lungs. The chamber also flips open so that the medication can be stored inside the chamber when not needed. A small volume asthma spacer with a compact design.
WyMedical added another spacer to their range, with the compact A2A Spacer, in January 2014. The A2A Spacer has the innovative feature of a collapsible chamber for portability, whilst still allowing internal storage of medication. You can also see the valve movement and it fits regular inhalers.
Medical Developments International have a spacer called the Compact Space Chamber Plus. This spacer has what is called “cross valve technology” – that creates low resistance when inhaling the medication and also allows you to easily breathe out. Also with a clear chamber so you can see the value working.
Priced at the higher end of the market is the Funhaler by Avita Medical. I haven’t had any experience with this one, but I do hear from other parents positive things. If your child is finding the use of a spacer difficult, this may be the one to try as the focus is on the movement of the wheel and sound of a whistle from the top chamber. The Funhaler has multiple parts that can be taken apart for cleaning.
Disposable and Semi-Disposable Asthma Spacers
Designed for single use the disposable and semi disposable asthma spacers are purchased folded flat and sealed in plastic packaging. They open into a small boxed chamber. Made by Niche Medical, called Liteaire. Suitable for a school or workplace environment. An important product as health policies in some states of Australia require spacers to be single patient use (used by one person, not shared).
Another low cost single patient use asthma spacer is the semi-disposable E-Chamber range made by Bird Healthcare. Made of an anti-static plastic with a large 520ml chamber or the LaPetite E-Chamber paediatric 220ml small volume spacer with a recommended spacer life of 12 months. Mask adaptors are available for the Bird Healthcare range.
Please enquire with Asthma Foundation, pharmacy or doctor if you are unsure which type to use.
Price of Asthma Spacers
In Australia, the cost of asthma spacers can vary considerably. Do a bit of a shopping around if you can, you can save yourself $10 – $15 on the spacers with face masks. (Important if you need to buy more than one). Find a pharmacy that gives great support. Alternatively check with the Asthma Foundation in your State or Territory for their online stores.
Asthma Spacer Technique
When learning to use an asthma spacer, double check your technique with your doctor or medical professional. Correct use of the spacer will ensure that the prescribed dosage is actually delivered to the lungs. If the technique is out, the true dosage will not be the same as what you thought you had administered.
It’s easy to overlook the manufacturer’s instructions that come with an asthma spacer, but do read it. Keep the instructions with the spacer if possible, helpful for other carers who may be using it for the first time. Alternatively, if the packaging of the spacer illustrates how to use the spacer, it may be a good idea to keep it in the box to help other people know what to do.
How to look after asthma spacers?
Regularly clean the spacer, you don’t need to wash it every time it’s used but do wash it once a month, both inside and out. (Check with the spacer manufacturer instructions as some materials – such as those made with anti-static plastic – may need to be cared for differently.)
Avoid static in the asthma spacer by not carrying the spacer in a plastic bag. When medication goes into the spacer that has static, the medication is drawn to the sides of the spacer, so there is a reduction in medication that travels through. For the same reason, when washing the spacer it’s important to rinse it well, then leave it to dry.
Try to keep the asthma spacer, asthma medication, asthma plan together. Nothing worse that searching the house at 2am for the spacer, and then another spot for the medication and asthma plan. Keep it all together and it’s there when needed. Recording medication given and the history of events in a diary is also recommended.
Having all the information you need with you when you speak with the family doctor can help clarify what is happening for your child and keep that asthma plan perfectly designed for your child’s asthma management.