The nebulizer is a medical device that helps to treat symptoms of airway disease. Sometimes, patients are unable to use a metered-dose inhaler or their illness is severe enough that the nebulizer is a more effective treatment when used several times a day.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.

What the Nebulizer Treats

Patients who use a nebulizer usually have a chronic lung condition such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma or emphysema. These diseases of the lungs and pulmonary system cause problems with breathing.

The doctor may prescribe a nebulizer for a child who has not developed the coordination to time a puff of medication from a metered-dose inhaler with an inhalation of breath or for an older person who is unable to do the same thing. Because patients have to be able to coordinate the administration of medicine with an inhalation in order to get the most benefit from an inhaler, a nebulizer can serve the same purpose and provide more medication and benefit to the patient.

Nebulizer Medications

The medications most often used in nebulizers are bronchodilators like albuterol and inhaled corticosteroids. Albuterol helps to open the airways during an asthma attack and the corticosteroids help to control airway inflammation so the patient can breathe more easily. Doctors sometimes prescribe ipratroprium, atropine or a combination of asthma medications, depending on the patient’s individual condition and needs.

How Often to Use the Nebulizer

Doctors prescribe treatments several times a day for asthma or other lung conditions. These treatments may be as few as twice a day or as often as four times daily, depending upon the severity of the patient’s condition. If a patient has experienced a severe asthma attack, her doctor may order her to use her nebulizer four times a day, every six hours for five or ten days, in order to bring an asthma attack under control and keep it under control. The doctor’s goal is to stop the wheezing and keep it stopped; that is why he prescribes multiple nebulizer treatments for an extended number of days. Responding to symptoms of wheezing and giving a treatment only when this symptom is present is not managing asthma. This is reacting to a condition which is not under good control. In order for a patient to keep his airways in an open, non-inflamed state, he should use his nebulizer for treatments at least twice per day when he has not experienced an asthma attack. The final determination of how often he should take nebulizer treatments during the day will be up to his doctor.

When to Use the Nebulizer

In order to prevent chronic asthma from becoming exacerbated into an extended attack during times of the year when pollen levels are high—fall and spring—a doctor may tell her patient to increase nebulizer treatments from the usual number in a day to as many as four per day. As the patient gets older and becomes more familiar with his triggers and symptoms, he can take a more proactive role in his daily treatments. However, his doctor may order that increase in treatments so the patient can stay away from the emergency room. It is important to take additional nebulizer treatments when allergen levels are high in order to keep the lungs from going into spasm. This is why the doctor prescribes an increase in treatments.

Importance of Using Nebulizer as Prescribed

In order to keep symptoms under control so the patient can remain healthy, she should get into the habit of using her nebulizer medications exactly as ordered by her physician. She or her parents need to take the responsibility for keeping her asthma under control. This means that, even when she is feeling good and is experiencing no symptoms, she needs to practice symptom control so she can prevent future attacks.