If you have an airway disease such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema or a lung infection, using a nebulizer can make it easier for you to breathe. But you might not be sure how to use these machines, or how they can help. Raed Alalawi, MD, a pulmonologist at Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix, shares some key information about nebulizers.
What is a nebulizer?
A nebulizer is a device that turns liquid medicine into a fine mist that you can inhale. The inhaled medication goes directly to your lungs to help alleviate your trouble breathing. Nebulizers are very effective at delivering different types of medication so you can breathe more easily.
Nebulizers come in different versions, based on how they turn liquid into mist. You can ask your doctor which one is best, depending on the medication you need. Your doctor might recommend one of these types of nebulizers:
- Jet, which uses compressed gas
- Ultrasonic, which uses high-frequency vibrations from an electric device
- Mesh, which passes the liquid through a fine screen
Typically, you will need a prescription to buy a nebulizer, though you might be able to find one over the counter. You will also need a prescription to buy the medication you add to the nebulizer.
How do you use a nebulizer?
“It might seem intimidating to use a nebulizer at first, but they are very easy to use,” Dr. Alalawi said. You simply put the medication in a chamber and turn the machine on. Then, you inhale the mist through a mouthpiece or mask.
It will probably take 10 to 15 minutes to complete a nebulizer treatment—you can sit quietly and read or watch TV. If you are helping a young child use a nebulizer, you might want to have them sit on your lap.
How often do you need to use a nebulizer?
Your doctor will guide you on how often to use your nebulizer and when to stop treatments. You may need to use your nebulizer several times a day.
If you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or emphysema, you will probably use your nebulizer on an ongoing basis. If you have asthma, you may need to use it when your symptoms flare or when triggers like allergens are at high levels. If you have a lung infection, you might use it until it clears.
How do you clean a nebulizer?
“It’s important to clean your nebulizer regularly. Otherwise, it could become contaminated with bacteria,” Dr. Alalawi said. Generally, you can wash the tube, medicine chamber and mask or mouthpiece with warm, soapy water. Check your manufacturer’s instructions for additional information about disinfecting your nebulizer.
The bottom line
If you have a disease or condition that makes it hard for you to breathe, a nebulizer could help deliver medication straight to your lungs so you can get the airflow you need. If you would like to talk to an expert about any breathing issues, reach out to Banner Health.