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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 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.
- 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 overmedication, and ultimately, worse asthma.
- Averted by Wheezy Joe in Intolerable Cruelty, a killer for hire with athsma whose Vader Breath is heard whenever he's onscreen. He dies when he accidentally puts his gun insead of his inhaler in his mouth during the confused fight between him and the attorneys and pulls the trigger.
- 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.
- Leonard in The Big Bang Theory.
- 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, the hip Kris uses an inhaler.
- 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.
- 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 athsma, 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.
- 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.
- Millhouse from The Simpsons uses an inhaler.
- In the Phineas and Ferb episode Nerds of a Feather, a lot of the kids at the convention center are shown to use inhalers.
- Carl Wheezer from Jimmy Neutron Boy Genius uses an inhaler periodically.
- 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.