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What Is Nebulizer Therapy?

author image Kelly Price
Kelly Price began developing study guides for nursing students in 2008. She has been a registered nurse since 1990 and has worked in multiple nursing fields. She holds a Bachelor of Science in nursing from the University of Colorado, a Master of Science in nursing from the University of Northern Colorado and a Master of Arts in education from the University of Colorado.
What Is Nebulizer Therapy?
Toddler girl sitting on the ground using a nebulizer. Photo Credit Nikodash/iStock/Getty Images

Nebulizer therapy is an effective and efficient way to deliver medications directly into the lungs by inhalation. Doctors prescribe a variety of different medications for conditions that warrant nebulizer therapy. Patients with conditions such as asthma, pneumonia, cystic fibrosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease can all benefit from nebulizer therapy, according to the website Cystic Fibrosis Education.


A nebulizer is a device that uses a small compressor to convert liquid medication into tiny droplets of mist that can be inhaled directly into the lungs. Since the medication goes straight to the lungs, onset of the medication’s action often takes place rapidly. This promotes quick symptom relief in the case of illnesses such as asthma, where fast relief is desirable, according to National Jewish Health. Also, it minimizes the risk of side effects of the medication, preventing the medication from being metabolized into a less effective form by the body.

Using a Nebulizer

A nebulizer comes with a small compressor that sits on a table or desk and plugs into a wall socket. It typically comes with a tubing kit, which contains a mouthpiece or mask, a cup that screws on to the mouthpiece or mask, and a long piece of tubing that connects to the compressor. Using a nebulizer generally requires placing the medication into the nebulizer's cup, connecting the tubing, turning the compressor on, and breathing the medicated mist.

Cleaning and Maintenance

Cleaning the nebulizer is important between treatments to prevent bacterial growth that could lead to lung infections. The nebulizer should be cleaned and/or disinfected following both physician and manufacturer instructions. Cystic Fibrosis Education says that nebulizer parts can be boiled, sanitized in a dishwasher, chemically disinfected or sanitized in the microwave in a special bag.

Medications Used In Nebulizers

Several classes of drugs can be used in a nebulizer, depending on the condition for which the nebulizer is being used. All nebulizer medication must be prescribed by a physician. Particle size for inhaled medications must be smaller than 1.5 microns in order for the medication to reach the smaller tubes in the lungs, so the drug’s concentration and formulation must be designed especially for nebulizer use, according to Cystic Fibrosis Education.

Bronchodilators such as albuterol are often given through a nebulizer in order to rapidly open airways in the event of an asthma attack, pneumonia, or chronic obstructive airway disease, says National Jewish Health. Inhaled corticosteroids are inhaled forms of a type of hormone that decreases inflammation. Direct application of steroids to lung tissues using a nebulizer can help control exacerbations of inflammatory lung diseases. Other types of asthma control medications may also be used in a nebulizer.

Antibiotics can help to treat bacterial infections in either the lung or sinuses when given by nebulizer. Patients with cystic fibrosis often use nebulized antibiotics prophylactically to prevent lung infections.

Expert Insight

Using a nebulizer can be a simple, beneficial and safe way to deliver inhaled medications directly into the lungs. Using and maintaining the nebulizer properly and as prescribed by a physician will help ensure that it works correctly and that the maximum benefit possible is obtained.

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