The use of dry powder inhalers (DPIs) to administer treatments for respiratory diseases has increased significantly in recent years. There is now a wide range of DPIs available that vary considerably in design, required operational techniques, output characteristics and drug delivery across a range of inhalation patterns. Different patient populations may find individual types of DPI easier to use correctly than others and selecting the right DPI for particular patient requirements will improve compliance with therapy. For example, some DPIs offer a greater resistance against inspirational flow rate than others which affects the total emitted dose and also fine particle mass of the aerosol released. An individual patient may therefore receive different amounts of drug when inhaling from different DPIs. Therefore, it is important that the prescriber is fully aware of the characteristics of the different types of DPI, so that he or she can prescribe the device that is most appropriate to an individual patient's needs. This review explores the characteristics of currently available DPIs and evaluates their efficacy and patient acceptability. The differences in output characteristics, ease of use and patient preferences between available devices is shown to affect treatment efficacy and patient compliance with therapy. Changing the DPI prescribed to a patient to a cheaper or generic device may therefore adversely affect disease control and thereby increase the cost of treatment.