Inhalers and nebulizers are both effective at delivering medications for respiratory conditions like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). A nebulizer is a device that transforms a liquid medication into a fine mist which is then inhaled into the lungs through a mouthpiece. While nebulizers take longer to deliver medications than inhalers, their accurate dosage delivery is often a good fit for children living with asthma and other lung diseases, and many adults find them helpful as well. Here’s what to know if you’re considering using a nebulizer.
What to know about nebulizers
Three types of nebulizers can be used to treat asthma, COPD, and other lung diseases like pulmonary fibrosis.
Jet nebulizers transform liquid medication into an aerosol or fine mist using an air compressor. They are the most common type of nebulizer.
Mesh nebulizers use a fine mesh to create an aerosol from the liquid medication. They are the newest type of nebulizer and emit the smallest particles.
Ultrasonic nebulizers create an aerosol through high-frequency vibrations. They are typically used in hospitals or at doctors’ offices.
There are different models of nebulizers, including portable, battery-run nebulizers that can be taken with you on the go and larger tabletop nebulizers that require an electrical outlet. These devices can deliver a variety of medications, including quick-relief medications that treat acute symptoms of lung diseases as well as longer-term maintenance medications. They may even be used to deliver more than one medication at once.
Your healthcare provider can advise you on the best method of medication delivery for your individual treatment plan. As you explore your options, be mindful of the key differences between nebulizers and inhalers.
Inhalers deliver medication quickly, but they require enough coordination to inhale and spray the medication at the same time. Some individuals, particularly young children, may find it challenging to properly use an inhaler. This can result in not receiving the full dose of medication.
To receive a dose of medication from a nebulizer, all that’s required is to breathe normally. However, nebulizers will take at least five to ten minutes to fully deliver the medication. You may want to ask your doctor which type of device they recommend for treating acute symptoms during an asthma attack or COPD flare-up.
How to use a nebulizer
If you and your doctor have decided that a nebulizer is a good fit for your needs, learning about proper use and cleaning of the device is a key part of managing your health. It will also ensure that you are taking your medication as prescribed. Be sure to follow your doctor’s instructions and review the manufacturer’s instructions for your nebulizer before using it for the first time, as there is some variation among these devices.
All nebulizers have a medicine cup, a mask and/or mouthpiece, an air compressor, and plastic tubing to connect the compressor to the medicine cup. Always wash and dry your hands before using your nebulizer and make sure that all the pieces of your nebulizer are clean. Pour the correct dose of your medication into the medicine cup and connect the tubing to the air compressor and medicine cup. Turn on your nebulizer and ensure that it’s properly working. You should see a fine mist coming from the mask or mouthpiece.
Once you see a mist appear, your nebulizer is ready for use. To inhale your medication, secure the mask over your nose and mouth or put the mouthpiece in your mouth. Sit upright and breathe normally. Taking slower breaths can help the medication enter your airways. Continue to breathe normally until the medication is gone from the cup.
Bacteria and other germs can grow inside of a nebulizer that has not been properly cleaned, so it’s important to clean your device after every use and disinfect it once a week.
After you’ve finished using your nebulizer, wash the mouthpiece or mask and the medicine cup in warm soapy water and let them air dry. For weekly disinfecting, soak these pieces in a vinegar solution for 30 to 60 minutes, or for the amount of time specified by your doctor or in the manufacturer’s instructions. Your doctor may provide you with a disinfectant solution, but if not, you can mix one part white vinegar with three parts hot water. After the pieces are done soaking, let them air dry. Put these pieces in a plastic container or bag and store it in a cool, dry place.
As part of nebulizer maintenance, you should replace the plastic tubing on a regular basis. Ask your healthcare provider how often to replace the tubing.
Insurance coverage of nebulizers
When deciding whether a nebulizer is a good fit for your needs, be sure to consider your health insurance benefits. Most insurance plans have separate medical and pharmacy benefits in addition to a Durable Medical Equipment (DME) section. Many nebulizers fall under the DME category of your policy. There may be restrictions on the brands, suppliers, or types of nebulizers that are available, and it’s important to check with your specific policy to understand what will be covered and under which sections.
Breathe easier with a better pharmacy
Alto makes it easy to stay on top of your asthma or COPD treatment, with free hand-delivery, automatic savings investigations, and easy medication management tools through our website and app. And our team of pharmacists is always here to answer your questions by phone or chat.
Reach out any time through in-app secure messaging or by phone at 1-800-874-5881.
This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.