How to Use a Nebulizer: A Step-by-Step Photo Guide

Many people with COPD or asthma use nebulizers. Here's how to do it.

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How to Use a Nebulizer - Part One

Picture of Nebulizer
A Step-by-Step, Illustrated Guide Picture of Nebulizer. Photo © A.D.A.M.

People with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) often need to get medication deep into their lungs, where it can do the most good. To accomplish this goal, many physicians prescribe COPD medication that's designed to be used with a nebulizer.

Nebulizers are machines that turn your liquid medicine into a fine mist, which you then inhale into your lungs. Unlike inhalers, nebulizers aren't particularly portable devices — most are actually small air compressors, although some more expensive models use sound vibrations to create the medication mist.

However, studies indicate that nebulizers are as effective for COPD treatment as inhalers, and may be easier to use. Experts recommend nebulizers for elderly patients with COPD, people with severe COPD or frequent exacerbations, and those who have trouble using an inhaler.

The step-by-step photo gallery above will show you exactly how to use your nebulizer.

Sources:

Dhand R et al. The role of nebulized therapy in the management of COPD: evidence and recommendations. COPD. 2012 Feb;9(1):58-72.

U.S. National Library of Medicine. COPD: How to Use a Nebulizer fact sheet. Accessed Jan. 28, 2016.

Knowing how to use a nebulizer is an important aspect of COPD treatment. This illustrated, step-by-step guide shows you how to use a nebulizer in seven easy steps.

Nebulizers are easy to use. They work by delivering a fine mist of spray, which penetrates deeply into your lungs.

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How to Use a Nebulizer - Part Two

How to Use a Nebulizer
Assembly of the Nebulizer Assembly of the Nebulizer. Photo © A.D.A.M.

Assemble the nebulizer according to the manufacturer's instructions. Be sure to securely connect the hose to an air compressor.

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Using a Nebulizer - Part Three

How to Use a Nebulizer
Filling the Medicine Cup How to Use a Nebulizer. Photo ©A.D.A.M.

Carefully fill the medicine cup with your prescription, being careful not to spill any. If your medicine comes in a pre-measured plastic ampule, twist off the top and pour it into the cup.

There are two types of COPD medications commonly used in a nebulizer: bronchodilators and glucocorticoids. Bronchodilators work by relaxing your airways so it's easier for you to breathe, and glucocorticoids work by decreasing inflammation.

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Using a Nebulizer - Part Four

How to Use a Nebulizer
Attaching the Nebulizer Hose and Mouthpiece How to Use a Nebulizer. Photo © A.D.A.M.

Attach the hose and mouthpiece to the medicine cup. Or, if you choose to use a mask, attach the hose and mask to the medicine cup.

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How to Use a Nebulizer - Part Five

How to Use a Nebulizer
Breathing into the Mouthpiece How to Use a Nebulizer. Photo © A.D.A.M.

Place the mouthpiece into your mouth and secure your lips around it. Breathe in and out slowly through your mouth, without removing your mouth from the mouthpiece.

You'll need to keep doing this continuously until all your medicine is gone, which should take about 15 to 20 minutes. If you can't stop breathing through your nose while you're using the nebulizer, you may need to wear a noseclip.

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Using a Nebulizer: Part Six

How to Use a Nebulizer
Using a Mask Instead of a Mouthpiece How to Use a Nebulizer. Photo © A.D.A.M.

Some people prefer using a face mask for nebulizer treatments. Don't worry if you like this option better than a mouthpiece, since research shows a face mask is just as effective in delivering COPD medications as a mouthpiece.

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Using a Nebulizer: Part Seven

How to Use a Nebulizer
Cleaning Your Nebulizer Following Use How to Use a Nebulizer. Photo © A.D.A.M.

After each use, you'll need to rinse your mouthpiece and medicine cup with warm water and let it air dry on clean paper towels. You should also rinse your mouth to remove any leftover medication residue.

Different nebulizers have different cleaning instructions. For example, some manufacturers recommend you run air through your nebulizer for a few seconds to dry it out following use. You should follow your nebulizer manufacturer's recommendations regarding cleaning and storage.

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