What Is a Nebulizer?
If you have asthma, your doctor may prescribe a nebulizer as
treatment, or breathing therapy. The device delivers the same types of medication
as metered-dose inhalers (MDIs), which are the familiar pocket-sized inhalers,
but works differently. Nebulizers may be easier to use than MDIs, especially
for children who aren’t old enough to properly use inhalers, or adults with
A nebulizer turns liquid medicine into a mist to help treat your
asthma. They come in electric or battery-run versions. They also come in a
larger size that’s meant to sit on a table and plug into a wall, and a smaller
size you can carry with you. Both are made up of a base that holds an air
compressor, a small container for liquid medicine, and a tube that connects the
air compressor to the medicine container. Above the medicine container is a
mouthpiece or mask you use to inhale the mist.
How Does It Work?
Pressurized air passes through the tube and turns the liquid
medicine into a mist. During an asthma attack or an infection, the mist may be
easier to inhale than the spray from a pocket inhaler. When your airways become
like during an asthma attack — you can’t take deep breaths. For this
reason, a nebulizer is a more effective way to deliver the medication than an inhaler,
which requires you to take a deep breath.
Nebulizers can deliver short-acting or long-acting asthma
medication. Also, more than one medication can be given in the same treatment. The
type of medication and dose will be prescribed by your doctor. You may receive
premixed containers of liquid that can be opened and placed in the machine, or
you may have to mix the solution before each use.
How Do I Use It?
Your doctor will tell you how often to use the nebulizer.
Ask your doctor if they have any specific instructions for your treatment. You
should also read the manual that comes with your machine.
Here are general instructions on how to use a nebulizer:
- Put the compressor on a flat surface where it
can safely reach an outlet.
- Check to make sure all the pieces are clean.
- Wash your hands before prepping the medication.
- If your medication is premixed place it in the
container. If you need to mix it, measure the correct amount and then place it
in the container.
- Connect the tube to the compressor and the
- Attach the mouthpiece or mask.
- Turn on the switch and check to see that the
nebulizer is misting.
- Put the mouthpiece in your mouth and close your
mouth around it or put the mask securely over your nose and mouth, leaving no
- Slowly breath in and out until the medicine is
gone. This may take five to 15 minutes.
the liquid container upright throughout the treatment.
How Do I Clean and Care for It?
The nebulizer should be cleaned after each use and
disinfected after every other treatment. Since you are breathing the vapor from
the machine, it must be clean. If the machine is not cleaned correctly, bacteria
could grow inside it. Follow your healthcare provider’s directions for cleaning
and disinfecting, to make sure that you’re not breathing harmful bacteria.
The tubing should be replaced regularly, since it is not
possible to completely clean the inside of the tubing. Your provider should
explain how often to change the tubing.
- Take off the mouthpiece/mask and remove the medicine
container and wash with hot water and mild liquid dish soap.
- Shake off the extra water.
- Reconnect the medicine container and
mouthpiece/mask to the compressor and turn on the device to air dry the pieces.
- Take off the detachable parts (mouthpiece and
- Soak them in the solution provided by your
doctor or one part white vinegar and three parts hot water.
- Let soak for one hour or as long as listed on
- Remove the pieces and either let them air dry or
reconnect the machine to dry them.
Check with your healthcare provider or pharmacist to make
sure that you have the correct instructions for daily cleaning and disinfecting
What Else Should I Know?
Discuss an asthma treatment plan with your doctor. Nebulizers
are an effective treatment for asthma, but the machines are noisy, usually
require a power source, and the treatment takes longer. If you get relief from
a pump inhaler, your doctor may prescribe a nebulizer for use only when the
pump isn’t working for you. Having a nebulizer on hand can be a good backup
plan to avoid emergency room visits.