Inhalers and Nebulizers for Asthma

Several types of devices are used to deliver medicine in a fine mist right into the lungs. They are used to treat asthma. They can also treat other lung diseases, such as chronic obstructive lung disease (COPD). These devices cause fewer side effects than medicine taken by mouth or injection. 

Types of devices

The type of device you are given will depend on your:

  • Age

  • Ability to use the device correctly to make sure the medicine reaches your lungs

  • Health history

  • Personal choice

  • Severity and frequency of your symptoms

The most common types of devices are:

  • Metered-dose inhaler (MDI). This is the most common type of inhaler. It uses a chemical to push the medicine into the lungs. It is held in front of or put into the mouth as the medicine is released in puffs.

  • Nebulizer. This is a machine that sprays a fine, liquid mist of medicine. The medicine is delivered with a mouthpiece or mask. Nebulizers are often used by people who can't use metered-dose inhalers. This includes babies, young children, and people with severe asthma.

  • Dry powder inhaler. Dry powder is inhaled with these devices. When you breathe in at the mouthpiece, the medicine is released. These inhalers may be used by children and adults. They must be kept dry. This stops the powder from clumping together.

Medicines in the devices

These devices may deliver both quick-relief and controller medicines. For example:

  • Corticosteroids to reduce airway swelling and inflammation

  • Bronchodilators to open narrowed airways

  • Other medicines for some lung conditions

Talk with your healthcare provider, nurse, or pharmacist about how to use the device prescribed for you. Read and follow the device instructions. And make sure you know how to keep your inhaler or nebulizer clean. Clean your inhaler or nebulizer after every use, or as directed by the package insert found in the medicine box. Always remember to remove the metal canister from your inhaler before cleaning the plastic boot.

If you use a steroid inhaler, make sure to swish, rinse and gargle with water after using it. This is to prevent thrush, a fungal infection. Spit the water out. Don’t swallow it. If you use a mask, wash your face with warm water to prevent a skin rash.

Online Medical Reviewer: Allen J Blaivas DO
Online Medical Reviewer: Daphne Pierce-Smith RN MSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Marianne Fraser MSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 2/1/2021
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