In fiction, having to use an inhaler at all immediately alerts the audience that this person is a nerd. It is rare or almost impossible to see anybody considered to be cool using one.
This is usually not Truth in Television
, because whether or not you need to use an inhaler has little to no bearing on your personality. However, if you have asthma or some other kind of breathing problem, it might prevent you from participating in strenuous sports, fitting with the nerdy stereotype. This probably accounts for the association.
Before inhalers, some people with weak health/lung problems (notably Robert Louis Stevenson
and H. G. Wells
) turned bookworm to entertain themselves when confined to bed and ended up with literary careers. Improved technology (visual media and inhalers) now gives us this trope as visual shorthand.
A Sickly Neurotic Geek
is also likely to use an inhaler. Compare Geek Physiques
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- A Virgin America ad invokes this: A woman is on a plane sitting next to a handsome, chisel-jawed dreamboat until she drops her phone and he turns on the light to pick it up. When he comes back into the light, she's shocked to see he's a nappy-haired, scrawny geek with an inhaler. She turns the light back out, and he immediately goes back to the hunk.
Film - Live Action
- Mikey in The Goonies has one that he throws away at the end of the movie, insinuating that now he's had adventures he's less nerdy. This is probably justified due to the fact that he was misusing it before, and has realized it's time to stop focusing on his weaknesses if his life is going to move forward. Treating an inhaler like a security blanket leads to over-medication, and ultimately, worse asthma.
- Averted by Wheezy Joe in Intolerable Cruelty, a killer for hire with asthma whose Vader Breath is heard whenever he's onscreen. He dies when he accidentally puts his gun instead of his inhaler in his mouth during the confused fight between him and the attorneys and pulls the trigger.
- Subverted in Black Hawk Down as nobody would try to claim any of the soldiers were the nerdy type.
Film - Animated
- Piggy from Lord of the Flies, whose asthma is one of many signs that he's the smart, nerdy one of the survivors.
- Played with in The Republic Of Trees. Louis has asthma. Although he certainly doesn't look like a nerd, he is the idealist responsible for the group's "revolution" and, at least initially, the brain of the operation it is also a symbol of his poor grip on reality - he wants to create a perfect society but he has no way of getting new inhaler in the forest. As the result, his health gradually deteriorates, finally causing him to go badly sick and be declared "unfit to rule" at the worst possible moment
- CHERUB Series novel People's Republic has has an asthmatic, scrawny nerd named Ethan. He also makes robots, and plays chess.
- Eddie in Stephen King's IT uses an inhaler. It even becomes a plot-point.
- The main character in Ophelia And The Marvelous Boys by Karen Foxlee uses an inhaler. She is a Reluctant Hero who suffers from Genre Blindness and is very focused on science and reason. She uses the inhaler as a security blanket and her asthma is triggered by fear.
Live Action Television
- Leonard in The Big Bang Theory. When his relationship with Penny is on and he sleeps at her place, they once made sure he had his inhaler there as well because it could ruin a romantic moment.
- In The IT Crowd, Maurice Moss is a computer nerd who keeps a heap of inhalers in his desk.
- Subverted in Monk. In "Mr. Monk Goes To A Rock Concert", pop singer Kris Kedder uses a unique mint-flavored inhaler due to childhood asthma. His inhaler is also a Danish import. It comes in handy after Monk ties Kedder to the murder.
- On Burn Notice, Michael will occasionally get people to let their guards down by pretending to be a nerdy wimp, and he uses an inhaler to really sell the illusion.
- Sammy in Dance Academy.
- Occasionally, Stevie and his father in Malcolm in the Middle use an inhaler, but neither of them are stereotypical nerds, even though Stevie is in the gifted class.
- Paul from The Wonder Years is a gangly geek with frequent asthma attacks.
- Discussed in LOST when Shannon has an asthma attack, Jack is surprised that she is asthmatic saying that he's never seen her use an inhaler, Boone replies by saying she uses it when no ones looking because "She's been embarrassed about it since she was a little kid; I guess breathing's not cool."
- The Doctor Who 50th Anniversary gives us Osgood, a scientist fangirl of the Doctor's who requires one of these whenever her hero is in the room. Her inhaler becomes a plot point when a Zygon impersonates her and needs the inhaler for itself.
- Averted with Scott Shelby from Heavy Rain. He has asthma and needs an inhaler, but he's also a hard-boiled private detective and one of the more Badass characters in the game.
- Averted with Ninten from MOTHER 1. He has asthma, and when he gets it, it has to be cured with an item called Asthma Spray. But, despite this, he's not a nerd at all. In fact, he's the strongest permanent character in the game.
- The Simpsons:
- Milhouse, a sickly nerd and Bart's friend, uses an inhaler.
- In one episode, when Bart is given a load of medical treatments that make him look like a geek, the inhaler actually gives him a Jerry Lewis Oh God, with the Verbing! voice.
- In the Phineas and Ferb episode Nerds of a Feather, a lot of the kids at the convention center are shown to use inhalers.
- Snot on American Dad! uses an inhaler.
- Samson from Camp Lazlo. He even calls it his "Asthma Buddy".
- Gordon from Angela Anaconda.
- One episode of Arthur actually revealed that Buster Baxter to have one of these.
- In an episode of El Tigre, a group of three nerds each use an inhaler after seeing Manny transform into a superhero.
- An early episode of Dexter's Laboratory shows the very-nerdy Dexter using an inhaler after encountering a large glob of dust.