Nebulizers: What they are and how to use them
A nebulizer turns liquid medicine into a very fine mist that a person can inhale through a face mask or mouthpiece. Taking medicine this way allows it to go straight into the lungs and the respiratory system where it is needed.
Who needs a nebulizer?
A range of medical conditions may require a person to use a nebulizer.
Doctors typically prescribe nebulizers to people with one of the following lung disorders:
Sometimes, a doctor will prescribe a nebulizer for a child who has a respiratory infection, such as bronchiolitis.
How to use a nebulizer
Before a person starts taking medicine with a nebulizer, a doctor or nurse will explain how the nebulizer works and answer any questions.
If a person receives their nebulizer from a pharmacy or medical equipment company, someone there will explain how to use it.
Each nebulizing machine operates a little differently. It is crucial to read the instructions for the particular device that the doctor has prescribed.
In general, a nebulizer is very easy to use, with only a few basic steps:
- Wash the hands.
- Add the medicine to the medicine cup, according to the doctor's prescription.
- Assemble the top piece, tubing, mask, and mouthpiece.
- Attach the tubing to the machine, according to the instructions.
- Turn the nebulizer on; they can be battery- or electrically powered.
- While using the nebulizer, hold the mouthpiece and medicine cup upright to help deliver all the medication.
- Take slow, deep breaths through the mouthpiece and inhale all the medicine.
Please speak with the doctor or call the manufacturer with any questions or concerns about the device.
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Is a prescription necessary?
It is best to check with a pharmacist before purchasing a nebulizer machine.
Typically, a nebulizer and the medicine it uses require a prescription from a doctor or another healthcare provider.
It is possible to purchase a nebulizer machine online without a prescription, though a doctor will probably still need to prescribe the medication.
However, some medication manufacturers require the use of a specific type of nebulizer, so it is always a good idea to double-check with the pharmacist or doctor before making a purchase.
There are several types of medication that a person can use with a nebulizer:
- Bronchodilators: These are drugs that help open the airways and make breathing easier. Doctors often prescribe bronchodilators to people with asthma, COPD, or other respiratory disorders.
- Sterile saline solution: A nebulizer can deliver sterile saline to help open the airways and thin secretions. This may loosen and make it easier to cough up mucus in the lungs.
- Antibiotics: A nebulizer can deliver some types of antibiotics straight into the lungs or respiratory tract when someone has a severe respiratory infection.
Differences between nebulizers and inhalers
Nebulizers and inhalers have some similarities — for example, they both deliver medicine directly into the lungs to help make breathing easier. However, there are some important differences.
There are two types of inhalers: a metered-dose inhaler (MDI) and a dry-powder inhaler.
An MDI is the most common type of inhaler. Using one involves inhaling a premeasured amount of medicine through a mouthpiece. Some inhalers have a spacer, which makes it easier to inhale the medication.
A dry-powder inhaler is similar, but the medication is in powder form inside the inhaler. It requires the user to take a deep, fast breath, which pulls the powdered medicine deep into the lungs.
Both types require the ability to inhale the medicine deep within the lungs. Some children and people with severe respiratory diseases may find this problematic.
Nebulizers tend to be a little easier to use, in terms of delivering the medicine. However, a nebulizer may take up to 10 minutes to dispense the medication, and the user needs to sit still until they have inhaled all of it, which may be hard for a young child.
Also, nebulizers are not as portable; they can be difficult to carry around, while inhalers are typically smaller and more suitable for traveling.
How to maintain and clean the nebulizer
A person should refer to the instructions on how to maintain their nebulizer.
The nurse or pharmacist will demonstrate how to clean and maintain the device. The general guidelines are as follows:
- Wash the hands and work on a clean surface.
- Disconnect the tube, medicine chamber, mask, or mouthpiece, and wash them thoroughly in warm, soapy water.
- Allow the pieces to air dry on a clean towel.
- Disinfect the machine according to the manufacturer's instructions.
A person will need to replace some component pieces between three and four times per year. Consult the instruction manual to learn how and how often to do this. Also, make sure never to share pieces with another person.
It is essential to follow the instructions for cleaning, disinfecting, and replacement.
If a person does not take good care of a nebulizer, it can become contaminated by bacteria that can cause an infection. Infections can be very dangerous, particularly for a person with a lung disorder.
A nebulizer is a piece of medical equipment that can help deliver medication directly to the lungs and the respiratory system where it is needed.
While the device is simple to operate, it is essential to use, clean, and maintain it correctly. Make sure to consult the manufacturer's manual, a pharmacist, or a healthcare provider with any questions or concerns.