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, so you'll go into academics instead, fitting with the nerdy stereotype. This probably accounts for the association. However, Asthma has degrees of severity and in real life, even some athletes like David Beckham have had asthma. In fact, athletes with minor asthma (which is common in real world schools) often need inhalers when people with the same condition wouldn't normally because of the increased lung use.
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 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.
- Carl Wheezer from Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius uses an inhaler periodically. The inhaler became a Chekhov's Gun during a fight.
Carl: This is my inhaler. It provides fast-acting relief of bronchial swelling due to asthma or allergies. One touch of the button and— [accidentally sprays it into his eyes] AAAAAAHHHHH!!! OH! I CAN'T SEE!
- 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.
- In Deadly Advice, Beth has asthma and uses an inhaler. It gets quite a work out when she visits the strip club.
- 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 Boy 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.
- Ruprecht Van Doren from Skippy Dies is an overweight Teen Genius who is obsessed with string theory, bored by normal social life, and is the geekiest among his group of geeky friends. Of course, he needs an inhaler for his asthma.
- The Big Bang Theory:
- Leonard is an experimental physicist and a massive sci-fi/fantasy/comic book geek. When his relationship with his gorgeous neighbour 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.
- Penny is an attractive young woman who hangs out with geeky guys and becomes their Nerd Nanny. She mentions that her entry into the comic book store alone "gave two guys asthma attacks".
- Jordan in The Bernie Mac Show has asthma and is shown in several episodes using his inhaler.
- 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.
- An episode of 1000 Ways to Die shows a nerd taking a whiff of different spices his new girlfriend is flavoring in her cooking and the nerd, not telling his girlfriend he has asthma, uses his inhaler behind her back. Things get worse when she makes him smell a certain spice that causes him to have an asthma attack, and since his inhaler ran empty, he dies from said attack.
- In Joe Iconis' song "Nerd Love", one of the things that gets the singer (who has a fetish for nerdy girls) hot is when the girl uses her inhaler.
"Nothin's quite as rad as asthma, baby, come on!"
- 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.
- Ninten from Mother 1 is asthmatic and when it attacks, caused by fighting cars and trucks that give off exhaust, he is left completely incapacitated unless treated with asthma spray. However, this trope is averted because despite how vulnerable it leaves him, he's the strongest party member (that isn't Pippi or Teddy) in the game. He's also not a nerd, in fact, the game does have a nerd as a party member, Lloyd, who has overall much weaker stats than Ninten but does not have asthma.
- Angus from Night in the Woods needs an inhaler, and while he may be the most 'nerdy' person in his group of friends, he's also probably the most physically imposing.
- The Simpsons:
- 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.
- Chas Finster in at least two episodes of Rugrats.