Have you heard of breathing treatments for asthma? The term “breathing treatments” typically refers to using a nebulizer. What is a nebulizer? A nebulizer is a medical device that helps to change a liquid medication into a mist so it can be inhaled directly into the lungs. Nebulizers are also used for cystic fibrosis, COPD and lung other conditions, in addition to asthma.
Benefits of Using a Nebulizer
• Nebulizers are sometimes easier to use; some children and adults have trouble using a metered-dose-inhaler and a spacer.
• Nebulizers get more asthma medication deeply and directly into the lungs where it can work faster.
Types of Nebulizers
The two main types of nebulizers are tabletop and portable nebulizers. Tabletop nebulizers are made to use in a hospital, doctor’s office or in your own home. These nebulizers plug into a normal electrical socket. Portable nebulizers can be used most anywhere, as they are powered by batteries (rechargeable or disposable), and are smaller and easier to carry with you.
Does Insurance Help with the Cost?
Most insurance companies will cover some portion of (if not all of) the purchase price, however it is necessary to have a doctor’s prescription in order to buy a nebulizer. It’s a good idea to call your insurance company before buying a nebulizer—to make sure the nebulizer will be covered, and if the insurance company requires you to buy the nebulizer from a specific authorized dealer. Nebulizers vary in price; however, tabletop nebulizers are usually less expensive than portable nebulizers.
How Does a Nebulizer Work?
Nebulizers use compressed air or ultrasonic power in order to change liquid medications into a mist. The compressor portion of the nebulizer is connected to plastic tubing. The compressor pushes air through the tubing to a unit called a nebulizer. The nebulizer is a chamber which holds the liquid medicine. Within this chamber, the compressed air works to change the liquid asthma medication into small droplets that can be inhaled by the patient.
Nebulized Asthma Medications
A wide variety of asthma medications can be delivered by nebulizer treatments:
Quick Relief Medications
Short-acting Beta2 Agonists such as: Airet, Proventil, Ventolin (albuterol), Xopenex (levalbuterol)
• Anticholinergics such as Atrovent (ipratropium)
• Combination meds such as Duoneb (albuterol and ipratropium)
Long-Term Control Medications
• Corticosteroids such as Pulmicort Respules (budesonide)
• Cromolyn Sodium such as Intal (cromolyn sodium)
Never mix nebulized asthma medications together unless instructed to do so by your doctor. Most nebulized asthma medicines come premixed. If your nebulizer medicine is not premixed, it’s best to use a normal saline solution to dilute the medication before nebulizing. Normalized saline, such as saline used for contact lenses, is OK to use. However, your doctor may suggest a specific type of saline to use with your nebulizer, along with the proper amount of saline to add to your nebulized medication.
How to Use a Nebulizer
A typical tabletop nebulizer consists of the following parts:
• Air compressor
• Clear plastic tubing
• Nebulizer chamber (chamber that holds the liquid medication)
• Mouthpiece (or a mask)
First, you’ll need to put the air compressor portion of the nebulizer on a table or other stable, flat surface. Never put your nebulizer on the floor to use, as dust and dirt can easily clog the air compressor. Then pour the proper dose of nebulizer asthma medication into the nebulizer chamber, and screw on the lid of the nebulizer chamber. Make sure the lid is securely screwed on, as this will ensure a proper seal. Without a proper seal, the nebulizer chamber will not be able to properly nebulize your asthma medication. Next you’ll need to connect one end of the plastic tubing to the air compressor, and connect the other end to the bottom of the nebulizer chamber. A mouthpiece is connected to one side, near the top of the nebulizer chamber. (In case of using a mask, attach the mask to the nebulizer chamber.) Then, insert the mouthpiece into your mouth and place your lips firmly around the mouthpiece. If you’re using a mask, place the mask firmly over your nose and mouth; make sure there is a firm seal between your skin and the mask to avoid nebulized medicine leaking out. Next, breathe slowly in and out, until you’ve used up all the medicine. A typical treatment lasts about 10 to 15 minutes.
When taking a nebulizer treatment, try holding each breath for about 2-3 seconds and then exhale. This will help your lungs to better absorb your nebulized asthma medication.
How to Clean a Nebulizer
Hot, Soapy Water. It’s important to clean your nebulizer after each use by following the manufacturer’s instructions. You can also follow these suggestions: take apart the nebulizer chamber, and then wash each part in warm soapy water. Next, rinse each part and then shake off any excess water. Allow the nebulizer parts to air-dry. Make sure all nebulizer parts are dry before storing.
Disinfection. Every other day it’s necessary to disinfect your nebulizer. Again, follow your nebulizer manufacturer’s instructions. In addition, you can follow these suggestions for disinfecting your nebulizer: wash your hands. Next, soak all nebulizer chamber parts (except tubing and mask) in a solution of 1 part distilled vinegar and 3 parts hot water. You should soak nebulizer chamber parts for at least 20 minutes. After disinfection is completed, rinse each part in warm water and discard the disinfection solution. Shake off excess water, and allow nebulizer chamber parts to air-dry; make sure all parts are completely dry before storing.
Cleaning the Nebulizer Compressor. Clean your nebulizer compressor according to the manufacturer’s instructions. You can also use a damp cloth to wipe the outside of your nebulizer compressor. It may also be necessary to occasionally clean and/or replace your nebulizer’s filter according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Storing the Nebulizer. You can store the nebulizer chamber parts in a zipped-top storage bag. The nebulizer compressor can be stored in its original box, or in a clean, dry cabinet or closet. It’s recommended you avoid storing your nebulizer on the floor, as dirt and dust can clog your air compressor.
Nebulizers can be an invaluable tool for asthma patients—young and old.
Nebulized asthma medicine is sometimes easier for younger children and adults to use, rather than a Midi inhaler and spacer. Asthma medicine, delivered by a nebulizer, gets directly to the airways and helps to speed up the action of the medicine in the lungs. Nebulizers can mean a dramatic improvement in quality of life for some asthmatics. Check with your doctor to see if a nebulizer may be a good option for you or your children.
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