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How to use a nebulizer

Nebulizer - how to use; Asthma - how to use a nebulizer; COPD - how to use a nebulizer; Wheezing - nebulizer; Reactive airway disease - nebulizer; COPD - nebulizer; Chronic bronchitis - nebulizer; Emphysema - nebulizer; Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease - nebulizer; Cystic fibrosis - nebulizer

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Description

A nebulizer is a small machine that turns liquid medicine into a mist that can be easily inhaled. You sit with the machine and breathe in the medicine through a connected mouthpiece or facemask. This allows the medicine to enter the lungs directly.

Nebulizers may be used for people with lung disease, including:

Types of Nebulizers

Most nebulizers work by using air compressors to create the mist containing the medicine. A different kind, called an ultrasonic nebulizer, uses sound vibrations. Nebulizers come in three main types:

A nebulizer can be a smaller portable device or a plug-in tabletop machine you use at home. You will need a prescription from your health care provider to get a nebulizer. Check with your health plan to see if it will cover the cost of the device. Most plans will cover it.

Setting Up and Using a Nebulizer

Use your nebulizer according to the manufacturer's instructions.

The basic steps to set up and use your nebulizer are as follows:

Taking Care of Your Nebulizer

You will need to clean your nebulizer to prevent bacteria from growing in it, since bacteria can cause a lung infection. It takes some time to clean your nebulizer and keep it working properly. Be sure to unplug the machine before cleaning it.

After each use:

Once per day, you may add a mild dish soap to the cleaning routine above.

Once or twice each week:

You may clean the outside of your machine with a warm, damp cloth as necessary. Never wash the hose or tubing.

You will also need to change the filter. The instructions that come with your nebulizer will tell you when you should change the filter.

Nebulizers vs. Inhalers

Like nebulizers, inhalers are also used to send medicine into your lungs. But there are differences.

Inhalers:

Nebulizers:

If you have asthma, you may not need to use a nebulizer. You may use an inhaler instead, which is usually just as effective if used properly. But a nebulizer can deliver medicine with less effort and greater predictability than an inhaler. You and your provider can decide if a nebulizer is the best way to get the medicine you need.

The choice of device you use may be based on whether you find a nebulizer easier to use and what type of medicine you take.

Below are examples of medicines that may be used with a nebulizer:

Bronchodilators work by relaxing the muscles of your airways, and this lets you breathe better during an attack or flare-up. Examples include:

Corticosteroids help prevent airways from becoming inflamed and help prevent symptoms. These include:

Nebulizers also may be used with:

Note: This is not a comprehensive list of medicines.

When to Call the Doctor

Contact your provider or medical device supplier if you are having trouble using your nebulizer. You should also call your provider if you have any of these problems while using your nebulizer:

These may be signs that you are getting too much medicine.

Related Information

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
Asthma
Asthma in children
Asthma and allergy resources
Wheezing
Asthma - control drugs
Bronchiolitis - discharge
Asthma - quick-relief drugs
COPD - control drugs
Exercise-induced asthma
Exercising and asthma at school
Make peak flow a habit
Signs of an asthma attack
Stay away from asthma triggers

References

Criner GJ, Bourbeau J, Diekemper RL, et al. Prevention of acute exacerbations of COPD: American College of Chest Physicians and Canadian Thoracic Society guideline. Chest. 2015;147(4):894-942. PMID: 25321320 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25321320/.

Fonceca AM, Ditcham WGF, Everard ML, Devadason S. Drug administration by inhalation in children. In: Wilmott RW, Deterding R, Ratjen E, et al, eds. Kendig's Disorders of the Respiratory Tract in Children. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 16.

Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) website. Global strategy for the diagnosis, management, and prevention of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: 2020 report. goldcopd.org/gold-reports/. Accessed December 9, 2022.

Han MK, Lazarus SC. COPD: diagnosis and management. In: Broaddus VC, Ernst JD, King TE, et al, eds. Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2022:chap 64.

Laube BL, Dolovich MB. Aerosols and aerosol drug delivery systems. In: Adkinson NF Jr, Bochner BS, Burks AW, et al, eds. Middleton's Allergy: Principles and Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 63.

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. National Asthma Education and Prevention Program. How to use a metered-dose inhaler. www.nhlbi.nih.gov/files/docs/public/lung/asthma_tipsheets.pdf. Updated March 2013. Accessed December 9, 2022.

Rochester CL, Nici L. Pulmonary rehabilitation. In: Broaddus VC, Ernst JD, King TE, et al, eds. Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2022:chap 139.

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Review Date: 12/9/2022  

Reviewed By: Frank D. Brodkey, MD, FCCM, Associate Professor, Section of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, Madison, WI. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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