How To Use A Nebulizer

Research studies say that MDIs are as effective as nebulizers at getting medication deep into your airways. However, many users say otherwise: Inhalers are great when you’re out and about, but if you’re short of breath or not feeling well, there’s nothing more therapeutic than inhaling the cool, medicated mist of your trusty nebulizer.

For small children and others unable to coordinate inhaler timing, they are essential.

Today’s nebulizers are easy to use – and many are small enough for travel or dorm rooms and quiet enough for silent nights. Medications come in sterile, unit dose vials – no measuring and mixing necessary!

Instructions for Use

Follow these steps to maximize the mist:

1. Wash your hands

To keep your nebulizer – and your lungs – free of germs, always wash your hands before handling the medication and equipment.

2. Check your medication

Before you begin, look closely at your medicine:

  • Has it expired?
  • Is the vial crushed or damaged?
  • Does the medicine look discolored?
  • Has it been exposed to any extremely hot or cold temperatures?

If you answer “yes” to any of these, replace the medicine.

3. Gather your equipment

Most set-ups include the following:

  • Compressor (the basic machine)
  • Tubing
  • Cup (the nebulizer) for the medicine
  • Mouthpiece
  • You might also have a mask

The compressor forces air into the medication in the cup, breaking the liquid into an aerosol. The cup design determines how well the system can produce droplets that are the right size to travel deep into the airways. Breath-enhanced and breath-actuated units allow less medication to escape into the air. Ask your health care provider for recommendations.

Very young, handicapped or elderly patients unable to use a mouthpiece dependably should always use a mask. Choose one that is soft and pliable enough to fit snug on the face and large enough to cover the mouth and nose.

4. Pour medication into the nebulizer cup

Unit-dose vials are a snap to use; just twist off the top and pour. Choose a nebulizer cup that will sit flat for easy pouring. Take a sniff as you pour and throw out any medication that smells foul, spoiled or like it may contain rubbing alcohol. If it smells of alcohol, it may be an illegal solution, not FDA-approved.

5. Sit back and relax

Put the mask in place or place the mouthpiece over your tongue and close your teeth and lips tightly around it, then turn on the machine. Breathe normally. If you start to cough, turn the machine off until you can breathe freely again. Continue the breathing treatment until the cup is empty. If the medication foams or bubbles, stop the treatment; you may have defective or contaminated medicine or equipment.

6. Wash up

Follow manufacturer’s instructions to keep your nebulizer cup, mouthpiece and tubing clean. Be thorough; whatever gets into your cup – from your hands, medication or house dust – will get into your lungs. When everything is clean and dry, store the system where it will stay dust-free.

Nebulizer cup/mouthpiece units and tubing don’t last forever. The plastic will break down over time. Replace them as recommended – and don’t forget to clean or change the air filter. Most machines have one.

Danger Zone

  • Never mix your own nebulizer medications from powdered capsules, crushed tablets or liquid medicines. Using medications other than those that are FDA-approved for nebulization can result in airway injury or infection.

  • Don’t overfill your nebulizer cup. It won’t aerosolize the medication at the correct particle size.

  • Don’t “blow by” or mist the medication in front of your child’s face. This will simply release the medicine into the air, not the lungs.

Watch a video of how to use a nebulizer

Read more:  Ask the Allergist:  How to make nebulizers easier for children