Learn How to Use a Nebulizer for Asthma

Select the Right Nebulizer for You

Nebulizer. Photo © A.D.A.M

Nebulizers or "breathing machines", as they are often referred to by patients, are devices that allow you to aerosolize liquid asthma medication and inhale it directly into your lungs as a mist. This allows the medication to get to your lungs directly where it is needed most. Additionally, when delivered in this fashion you may see the medication begin to take effect sooner and you may have fewer systemic side effects. Metered dose inhalers (MDIs) and dry powder inhalers (DPIs) are the other primary mechanisms for aerosolized treatment.

While some patients feel their asthma improves more with a nebulizer compared to an inhaler with a spacer, this has never been proven.

Types of nebulizers used for asthma medicine include:

  • jet nebulizers
  • ultrasonic nebulizers
  • mesh nebulizers

Learn More About These Nebulizer Options

The number of different factors including cost, your preferences, and your doctor's preferences will determine which nebulizer is best for you. The kind of asthma medication prescribed also determines which nebulizer can be used. Talk to your doctor about your situation and your needs, then select the machine that suits you best.

Which Nebulizer Is Right for Me?

This may be determined by what your insurance plan will cover, but a number of different points are covered below. Some medications, like budesonide, can only be delivered in certain nebulizer types.

Jet nebulizers deliver medication via a liquid mist of medication inhaled through a mouthpiece. The liquid mist is created  using compressed air and the medication is then inhaled into the lungs. These nebulizers can be large, bulky and require an electrical power source.

Ultrasonic nebulizers use ultrasonic waves to create your asthma medication into a liquid mist that is delivered to the lungs. These nebulizers do not require an additional liquid other than your asthma medication so the treatment time is often less than with a jet nebulizer. These nebulizers are often, smaller, more compact, portable and battery powered- making treatments and travel easier.

Examples of ultrasonic nebulizers include:

  • Beetle Neb
  • Lumiscope
  • Minibreeze

Mesh nebulizers are the fastest and most expensive of all the nebulizers. These nebulizers force your asthma medication through a mesh screen to produce a liquid mist that you can inhale into the lungs. While these nebulizers offer many of the conveniences of ultrasonic nebulizers, the mesh can sometimes get clogged or break- putting your asthma control in jeopardy. The fine mists make them among the most efficient in delivering medication.

Examples of mesh nebulizers include (these are all portable and have the ability for battery operation):

  • eFlow (Pari)
  • Aeroneb Solo (Aerogen)
  • Aroneb Go (Aerogen)
  • MicroAIR/NE-U22 (OMRON)
  • I-neb (Respironics)

Other designs are increasingly becoming available. The Pari LC is designed to release more particles during inhalation compared to exhalation. In this manner, less medication is wasted and more gets into your lungs. Circulaire and AeroTee nebulizers also decrease waste by having medication collected into a bag that you are breathing in and out of. Finally, the AeroEclipse nebulizer is breath actuated so that aerosol is only released during inhalation.

Portable nebulizers can be a little tricky and you will want to consider which one is a good for you.

Plug in Your Nebulizer

Nebulizer Compressor. Photo © A.D.A.M

To use your nebulizer, begin by placing the compressor on a flat surface and plugging it into an electric outlet. Make sure your nebulizer is positioned in a place that you will be comfortable since you will be here for at least a little while depending on the type of nebulizer you have.

Add Medication To Your Nebulizer

Nebulizer Medication. Photo © A.D.A.M

After washing your hands to prevent an infection, add your nebulizer medication as instructed by your asthma doctor.

In general, your doctor will prescribe your asthma medication in one of two ways.

You may have to add a certain number of drops of a medication to the nebulizer cup. Or, your doctor may prescribe your medication as a unit or single dose of medication that comes in individual, prepackaged, and disposable containers.

When you've added the medication, make sure you tightly close the nebulizer cup to prevent your medication from leaking out.

Connect All the Nebulizer Pieces

Nebulizer Pieces. Photo © A.D.A.M

Next, connect all of the pieces of your nebulizer.

  • Unwind your nebulizer tubing.
  • One end of the tubing will be connected to the compressor's air source.
  • The other end of the tubing will be connected to the bottom of your nebulizer cup.
  • Make sure both ends are firmly connected.

Use Your Nebulizer

Nebulizer. Photo © A.D.A.M.

After connecting your nebulizer, follow these steps to use it appropriately.

  1. Make sure that you are in a comfortable position, sitting upright. If using a mouthpiece (t-piece), place it between your teeth and over the tongue so that your lips can comfortably make a seal. If a mask, place it over your mouth and nose.
  2. After positioning the nebulizer, turn it on.
  3. Make sure you see a fine mist coming from the nebulizer. If you don't, check to make sure all the connections are appropriately sealed.
  4. Relax and breathe deeply in and out until all the medication is gone.
  5. You will know that it is time to stop when the nebulizer starts to sputter. You may still see some fluid in cup after you finish your treatment. It depends on the medicine and type of nebulizer, but most treatments take approximately 10 to 15 minutes.

Clean Your Nebulizer

Cleaning Your Nebulizer. Photo © A.D.A.M.

After each medication treatment, disconnect your nebulizer (t-piece or mask) from the tubing and take it apart. Rinse nebulizer cup with warm water, and then shake off the excess water and let air dry. Do not clean the tubing; if water gets inside, make sure to replace.

At the end of every day, make sure you wash all nebulizer parts in warm soapy, water and then rinse well. Just as before, shake off excess water and allow them to dry completely on a dish rack or clean towel. When completely dry, reassemble and keep in a cool dry place.

Some nebulizer parts are dishwasher safe, but make sure to read the instructions that came with your nebulizer or check with the retailer you bought it from beforehand.


American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology. Tips to remember: Inhaled Asthma Medications.

NHLBI Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Treatment of Asthma. Expert Panel Report 3: Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Asthma.

Tashkin DP.  The Role Of Nebulizers In Airways Disease Management

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What's Your Biggest Asthma Problem?. Pat Bass

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