Metered dose inhalers (MDIs) are widely used in clinical practice for administering pharmaceuticals targeted to the lung. It is well known that the inhalation technique used with MDIs can substantially influence the clinical response to inhaled medications. To determine the acceptability of MDI maneuvers, we studied 59 subjects (26 females and 33 males; age, 20 to 81 yr; mean age, 38 yr) to determine whether the MDI technique used by these individuals complied with published recommendations for acceptable inhalation technique. Measurements were made with an MDI adapter that contained an unobtrusive, lightweight, miniature sensing system. Inspiratory flow at the moment of MDI actuation (Va), the volume (integrated from airflow) at actuation as a fraction of total inspiratory volume (Va/VI), breath-holding time (tBH), and inspiratory volume as a fraction of FVC (VI/FVC) were determined from 59 uncoached inhalations. We defined an acceptable maneuver, based on published data, by four components: (1) inspiratory flow at actuation (Va) between 25 and 90 L/min; (2) actuation during early inspiration (0 < Va/VI < or = 0.20); (3) adequate breath-holding time (tBH > 4 s), and (4) a deep inhalation (VI/FVC > 0.50). For all subjects, only 25% of inhalation maneuvers met all four criteria for acceptability. We found that a significantly higher proportion of male than female subjects performed an acceptable MDI maneuver (43% versus 4%, p < 0.001). There were no significant differences in technique between younger and older subjects or between patients with a diagnosis of asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). We conclude that most patients use their MDIs incorrectly; females of all ages are much more likely to have improper MDI technique than are males.