What is a nebulizer?
A nebulizer is a device that helps a person inhale medicine in the form of a mist through a mask or a mouthpiece. A nebulizer delivers the drug directly into the airways and the lungs, achieving targeted action and minimizing systemic side effects in the body. Nebulizers are used for a variety of conditions affecting the airways and lungs.
What is a nebulizer used for?
A nebulizer is used to relieve various symptoms related to the lungs:
- Wheezing (a whistling or rattling sound in the chest during breathing)
- Severe cough
- Chest tightness
Some common lung diseases that can require a nebulizer are:
What do you put in a nebulizer?
A nebulizer converts the liquid form of a drug into a mist or a fine spray with oxygen, compressed air or ultrasonic power. Drugs that can be given through a nebulizer include:
- Corticosteroids (e.g., budesonide, fluticasone and triamcinolone): These drugs reduce the inflammation and irritation in the lungs and airways.
- Bronchodilators (e.g., albuterol, formoterol, levalbuterol and salmeterol): These drugs open the airways.
- Hypertonic saline solutions (medical grade saltwater solutions): These solutions loosen mucus in the airways and make it easier to cough it out.
- Antibiotics to treat and prevent infections.
How do you use a nebulizer at home?
It is recommended that you use a nebulizer at home only if:
- Your healthcare professional recommends using it at home.
- You are prescribed medications to use with a nebulizer.
- You understand its usage and maintenance.
Nebulizers may vary in their design and usage. Generally, it is very simple and convenient to use a nebulizer. The basic steps are:
- Wash your hands well.
- Place only the prescribed quantity of medicine in the medicine cup.
- Close the medicine cup tightly to avoid spills.
- Attach the tubing and mouthpiece/mask to the medicine cup.
- Place the mouthpiece in your mouth with your lips firmly around it. If you are using a mask, be certain that it fits well around your nose and mouth.
- Turn on the nebulizer and breathe through your mouth until the medicine is consumed. Hold the mouthpiece and medicine cup upright. You must breathe slowly and deeply. You will likely feel comfortable and pleasant as the drug reaches your airways.
- Turn off the machine when done.
- Wash the mouthpiece and medicine cup with water and air dry them.
- Do not use the same mouthpiece, mask or tubing for other medications.
How should I clean my nebulizer?
A thorough cleaning of the nebulizer is recommended once a week to ensure that it functions well and to avoid the spread of infection. Tips to keep your nebulizer clean:
- Wash the mouthpiece/mask, top piece and medicine cup after each use.
- To start, remove the tubing and set it aside. Never place it under water.
- Remove the mouthpiece/mask and medicine cup from the top piece. Wash them in warm soapy water and rinse. You can also wash them on the top shelf of a dishwasher.
- Air dry the pieces after washing and keep them in a cool and dry place until you use them again.
- Soak the mouthpiece/mask, top piece and medicine cup in a solution of white vinegar and water for 30 minutes and/or per the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Rinse and air dry after 30 minutes.
- The compressor and the outside of the tubing must be cleaned with a soapy cloth or disinfectant wipe. Never submerge them in water.
- Most compressors have an air filter that needs to be replaced every six months and/or per the manufacturer’s instructions.
Pain Management Resources
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
How to Clean a Nebulizer
Pharmacologic Management of COPD: An Official ATS Clinical Practice Guideline
Expert Panel Report 3: Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Asthma