A nebulizer is a breathing machine used to treat breathing problems such as those related to asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The nebulizer converts a liquid medication, usually a bronchodilator like albuterol, into a mist that can be easily and painlessly inhaled. A nebulizer is often used to make inhaling medicines easier for patients who may have difficulty breathing and using an inhaler.
Benefits of Nebulizer Treatment
Nebulizers are frequently used in infants and young children who are unable to use inhalers on their own. When a patient uses a nebulizer, a small mask is put over the face while the patient breathes normally. It is not necessary for patients to be able to hold their breaths or to inhale deeply in order to benefit from a nebulizer treatment. This is especially beneficial when the patient is a baby, a young child, or an elderly patient with dementia.
Nebulizers are also the treatment of choice when a patient requires a large dose of inhaled medication, as during an episode of acute asthma, pneumonia or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The nebulizer mask may be used by the patient or held by a caregiver. Nebulizers provide breathing relief more quickly and completely than inhalers since the patient inhales the medication as a mist over the course of about 20 minutes instead of during only a few long breaths. Because the treatment period lasts longer, the nebulizer provides a welcome interval of freer breathing with a more lasting effect.
Nebulizer treatment relaxes the breathing muscles and permits air to flow more easily in and out of the lungs. It also helps to loosen mucous in the lungs. Both of these benefits of nebulizer treatment help to decrease and prevent wheezing, shortness of breath, coughing, and tightness in the chest.
Nebulizer treatment may also be used in susceptible individuals as a means of preventing breathing difficulties during exercise. Nebulizers, which are only dispensed by prescription, come in a variety of sizes. Some require electrical outlets or can be plugged into a car cigarette lighter. Others are very small and can be carried in a large pocket, briefcase or pocketbook to be available anywhere. Because the latter are battery-operated and portable, they are especially helpful for unexpected asthma attacks or for athletes prior to strenuous events.
Nebulizers should always be used in a clean, smoke free environment and cleaned between uses.
Risks of Nebulizer Treatment
There are some side effects that may occur in certain individuals who use nebulizers. The most common side effects of nebulizer treatment are rapid heartbeat, jitteriness and anxiety. Less frequent side effects may include headache, nausea, vomiting or throat irritation. Serious reactions to nebulizer treatment are also possible and should be immediately reported to the prescribing physician. These dangerous symptoms may include chest pain, rash, hives, swelling or difficulty swallowing.