A nebulizer turns your COPD medicine into a mist. It is easier to breathe the medicine into your lungs this way. If you use a nebulizer, your COPD medicines will come in liquid form.
With a nebulizer, you will sit with your machine and use a mouthpiece. Medicine goes into your lungs as you take slow, deep breaths for 10 to 15 minutes.
Many people with COPD do not need to use a nebulizer. Another way to get your medicine is with an inhaler, which is usually just as effective.
Nebulizers can deliver medicine with less effort than inhalers. You and your doctor can decide if a nebulizer is the best way to get the medicine you need. The choice of device may be based on whether you find a nebulizer easier to use and what type of medicine you take.
Most nebulizers use air compressors. Some use sound vibrations. These are called "ultrasonic nebulizers." They are quieter, but they cost more money.
Follow these steps to set up and use your nebulizer:
You'll need to clean your nebulizer to prevent bacteria from growing in it, which can cause a lung infection. It takes some time to keep your nebulizer clean and working properly. Be sure to unplug the machine before cleaning.
After each use:
Once per day, you may add a mild dish soap to the cleaning routine above.
Once or twice each week:
You may clean the outside of your machine with a warm, damp cloth as necessary. Never wash the hose, or tubing.
You will also need to change the filter. The instructions that come with your nebulizer will tell you when you should change the filter.
Most nebulizers are small, so they are easy to transport. You may carry your nebulizer in your carry-on luggage when traveling by plane.
Call your doctor if you are having trouble using your nebulizer. You should also call if you experience any of the following while using your nebulizer:
These may be signs that you are getting too much medicine.
Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD). Global strategy for the diagnosis, management, and prevention of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Vancouver (WA): Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD); 2013.
Qaseem A, Wilt TJ, Weinberger SE, Hanania NA, Criner G, van der Molen T, et al. Diagnosis and Management of Stable Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease: A Clinical Practice Guideline Update from the American College of Physicians, American College of Chest Physicians, American Thoracic Society, and European Respiratory Society. Ann Intern Med. 2011;155(3):179-191.
Updated by: Denis Hadjiliadis, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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