The aim of this study was to examine the potential differences between beliefs relating to symptomatic and preventive inhaler treatment and to analyze the relationship between these beliefs and the use of inhalers by adult patients with asthma in general practice. Unstructured interviews with a stratified sample of 8 patients, taking a combination of salbutamol and beclomethasone inhalers, were used to develop themes for a structured interview, where questions relating to 8 main areas of interest were measured on a 5-point Likert scale. Forty patients prescribed the same combination of inhalers were randomly selected for the structured interview. All agreed to participate (100% response). Correlations between the responses to the 8 themes and measures of inhaler use were analyzed. High use of salbutamol for the relief of symptoms and low use of beclomethasone for the prevention of asthma were common. Perceived benefits of the inhalers, a positive attitude to using the inhalers, and concern about side effects had strong influences on the use of both inhalers. Uncertainty about the inhalers, a negative attitude to using the inhalers, and the involvement of others in asthma management had less influence on inhaler use. Satisfaction with the doctor and the ease of obtaining an inhaler were more important issues for beclomethasone use than for salbutamol use. There are important differences in the beliefs that patients hold in relation to symptomatic and preventive use of inhaler treatment. These findings suggest that focusing on very specific attitudes to treatment may be of benefit in the health education of adults with asthma. Further work is planned to refine the themes so that doctors will be able to explore patients' views about their inhaler treatment by asking a few direct questions.