Because you have asthma, COPD, or another lung disease, your health care provider has prescribed medicine that you need to take using a nebulizer. A nebulizer is a small machine that turns liquid medicine into a mist. You sit with the machine and breathe in through a connected mouthpiece. Medicine goes into your lungs as you take slow, deep breaths for 10 to 15 minutes. It is easy and pleasant to breathe the medicine into your lungs this way.
If you have asthma, you may not need to use a nebulizer. You may use an inhaler instead, which is usually just as effective. But a nebulizer can deliver medicine with less effort 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 may be based on whether you find a nebulizer easier to use and what type of medicine you take.
Most nebulizers are small, so they are easy to transport. Also, most nebulizers work by using air compressors. A different kind, called an ultrasonic nebulizer, uses sound vibrations. This kind of nebulizer is quieter, but costs more.
Take the time to keep your nebulizer clean so that it continues to work properly.
Use your nebulizer according to the manufacturer's instructions.
The basic steps to set up and use your nebulizer are as follows:
- Wash your hands well.
- Connect the hose to an air compressor.
- Fill the medicine cup with your prescription. To avoid spills, close the medicine cup tightly and always hold the mouthpiece straight up and down.
- Attach the hose and mouthpiece to the medicine cup.
- Place the mouthpiece in your mouth. Keep your lips firm around the mouthpiece so that all of the medicine goes into your lungs.
- Breathe through your mouth until all the medicine is used. This takes 10 to 15 minutes. If needed, use a nose clip so that you breathe only through your mouth. Small children usually do better if they wear a mask.
- Turn off the machine when done.
- Wash the medicine cup and mouthpiece with water and air dry until your next treatment.
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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.
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 January 21, 2020.
Review Date 1/13/2020
Updated by: Laura J. Martin, MD, MPH, ABIM Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.