How to Get An Inhaler Without Seeing a Doctor

By Jenell Decker, MD
Medically reviewed
October 1, 2021

If you suffer from breathing problems or asthma, you may need an inhaler.

Also called a bronchodilator, an inhaler is a device that helps people get the necessary medicine into their lungs quickly and easily.

The medicine works as a mist or spray that is released by a pump to help open tight airways.

There are two kinds of inhalers: Many asthma patients rely on a metered-dose inhaler (MDI) as a part of their asthma treatment plan.

These inhalers have a chemical propellant that pushes a specific dose of medicine from a pressurized canister, and delivers it directly into your lungs.

Dry powder inhalers (DPI) provide medicine without propellants, but patients must be able to coordinate their breathing enough to use their inhaler correctly.

You can get an inhaler by setting up an online appointment with your doctor or visiting your local pharmacy for over-the-counter options.

In this article, I’ll explore how to get an inhaler without a doctor’s visit, how inhalers work, and when you should see a doctor about asthma or your inhaler.

Refill your asthma prescription online today—for just $23.

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Getting an Inhaler Without a Doctor’s Visit

Asthma is a condition that affects about 1 in 13 Americans, and impacts both adults and children.

When someone has asthma, their lungs are hyperresponsive to triggers that cause their airways to become inflamed, cause their chest muscles to constrict, and may cause an excessive production of mucus, or phlegm.

When this happens, it can be difficult to breathe.

Asthma is the main reason for needing an inhaler. When an asthma sufferer experiences symptoms, or a more severe increase of symptoms called an asthma attack, an inhaler can provide quick relief of symptoms.

Other inhalers are used for long-term control of asthma symptoms.

While you do not need a doctor’s visit to get an inhaler, it is recommended for severe cases that you speak with a medical expert who can help you get the medication you need.

You can do this by setting up an online appointment with your doctor.

Online

Set up a virtual appointment with a doctor.

They can write you a prescription for an albuterol inhaler during your appointment, and discuss ways you can control your symptoms to alleviate frequent asthma attacks.

Albuterol inhalers are highly-effective, prescription treatments for asthma patients.

Your online doctor can electronically send your prescription to your local pharmacy for you to pick up.

Be sure to use only as directed. You can refill your asthma prescription online today with K Health.

Over-the-counter 

Some inhalers, including Primatene Mist, are available over-the-counter without a prescription at most pharmacies.

We recommend discussing this with your doctor before trying one. In most cases, asthmatics will need a prescription inhaler as directed by a doctor, not one that can be purchased over-the-counter.

If you suspect your child is suffering from asthma, it is advised you speak with a doctor who can set up an asthma pediatric care plan.

They will provide prevention tips, and design a plan that works best for your child.

How an Asthma Inhaler Works

Inhalers offer short-term relief for the treatment of breathing problems.

They provide a spray or mist through a pump that is emitted into the mouth to help open narrowed airways for easier breathing.

Inhalers work to treat the following medical conditions:

  • Asthma
  • COPD
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Emphysema
  • Bronchiectasis

There are two main types of inhalers to treat breathing problems. 

  • Metered-dose inhalers: These inhalers feature a pressurized canister containing medication that fits into a boot-shaped plastic mouthpiece. The medication is released by pushing down on the canister so it is expelled out of the boot. Metered-dose inhalers may release medication automatically when you inhale, or they may have a built-in dose counter—or app you can download on your phone—that can help you track how many doses remain. If your dose doesn’t have a counter, we recommend purchasing a separate electronic dose encounter so you can know when the medication is low.
  • Dry powder inhalers: Rather than pushing the medication into your lungs by pressing down on the canister, this inhaler works by breathing in fast, deep breaths and sucking the medication into your lungs. Dry powder inhalers hold up to 200 doses, which are measured into single-dose devices. You fill the inhaler before each treatment to control the medication amount.

When using your metered-dose inhaler without a spacer, it is important to follow these instructions for best results:

  1. Take the cap off. Look inside the mouthpiece and make sure it is clean.
  2. Shake the inhaler hard 10 to 15 times before every use.
  3. Breathe out, trying to exhale as much as you can.
  4. Place your lips around the mouthpiece so that you form a tight seal, and your hand over the canister.
  5. As you start to slowly breathe in through your mouth, press down on the inhaler once.
  6. Continue breathing in slowly.
  7. Hold your breath and slowly count to 10 to let the medicine reach deep into your lungs.
  8. Exhale slowly through your mouth.
  9. If you are using inhaled, quick-relief medicine, wait approximately one minute between puffs. You do not need to wait a minute between puffs for other medicines.
  10. Replace the cap. Make sure it is firmly closed.
  11. Rinse your mouth with water, gargle, and spit. This helps reduce side effects from your medicine.

Be sure to keep your inhaler clean.

Store it in a cool, dry place, and replace it before it is empty.

Refill your asthma prescription online today—for just $23.

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When to See a Doctor

It is time to see a doctor when at-home remedies or over-the-counter options are not working effectively to treat your breathing problems.

Consider the following at-home remedies that can help you:

  • Sit up straight
  • Remain calm
  • Perform breathing exercises—take slow, deep breaths
  • Move away from asthma triggers such as pet dander, pollen, and dust mites
  • Inhale warm, moist air (or steam) into the lungs
  • Drink warm liquids
  • Take a hot, steamy shower
  • Take vitamins C, D, and E

While home remedies can relieve mild symptoms of asthma and other breathing problems, seek urgent medical care if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Severe breathlessness or wheezing (particularly in the early morning or at night)
  • Rapid, shallow breathing, and the inability to speak more than short phrases
  • Chest pain
  • A bluish tint to your skin

How K Health Can Help

Did you know you can get affordable primary care with the K Health app? 

Download K Health to check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and if needed text with a doctor in minutes. K Health’s AI-powered app is HIPAA compliant and based on 20 years of clinical data.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I use an inhaler without a prescription?
Yes. There are over-the-counter inhalers, such as Primatene Mist, which treat mild cases of asthma. It is recommended that you speak with a doctor before purchasing an inhaler for the first time, as they can help find the right medication for you.
How much does an inhaler cost?
Prices will vary between prescription and OTC options. Albuterol inhalers average $15 for 90 ml. This will depend on what pharmacy you visit. If you are purchasing Primatene Mist, you can expect to pay around $35 for 11.7 g. However, this will vary between pharmacies.
How do doctors determine if you need an inhaler?
Your doctor will do a physical exam to determine if you have asthma. This will involve checking your eyes, ears, throat, nose, chest, lungs, and skin. They will examine your breathing to see how you exhale breath from your lungs. In some instances, they may do a lung function test which involves watching your breathing before and after you inhale a medication known as a bronchodilator. It is common for doctors to prescribe an inhaler as a trial medicine to see if it improves your breathing.
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Jenell Decker, MD

Dr. Decker is a family medicine physician who completed her residency at East Carolina University School of Medicine. She graduated medical school from Marshall University School of Medicine.