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Nebulizer Treatments - How does a Nebulizer Work

Nebulizer Treatments - How does a Nebulizer Work

A nebulizer is a device which facilitates easy inhalation of medicine for respiratory diseases. It has a simple working mechanism and is easy to operate.
Sonia Nair
Nebulizers are used to administer medicines for treating respiratory diseases like asthma, cystic fibrosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Though metered-dose-inhalers are quite common, nebulizers are preferred for those with severe respiratory problems, infants and very old people. Nebulizer treatments, also known as breathing treatments, aerosol treatments or med nebs, refer to administration of medicines through devices called nebulizers.
What is a Nebulizer?
A nebulizer is not a drug or medication, but is a device used for administering medicines. This device comprises a compressed air source which is connected to a cup, into which liquid medicine is added. The cup, in turn is connected to a mouthpiece or a face mask. Though inhalers are far more effective in delivering medicines, nebulizers are required in some cases, where the patients are unable to use the former. Infants, elderly and bedridden patients need to inhale the medicine passively. This is facilitated by nebulizers, which convert liquid medicines to aerosol mist, which goes deep into the airways and eases breathing problems faster.
Nebulizer Types
There are two common types of nebulizers - compressor nebulizer and ultrasonic nebulizer. The former is the most common type, while the latter is a comparatively a new entrant. Ultrasonic nebulizers, however, are considered more effective as they take less time for nebulization and create a finer mist. While compressor nebulizers use compressed air to create mist, ultrasonic ones use high-frequency vibrations for that purpose. The basic function of both are the same, i.e., both turn liquid medicines to fine particles, that can be inhaled easily.
How Does a Nebulizer Work
  • A nebulizer has a machine that provides the power to break down the liquid medicine into aerosol mist.
  • It could be a mechanical one that uses a compressor to produce pressurized stream of air for breaking up liquid medicine.
  • Ultrasonic nebulizers use high-frequency vibrations for this purpose. Some of these machines require a medium, like water, to carry the vibrations.
  • Nebulizer machines come with a medicine container, meant for holding the liquid medicine. In some machines, the containers have in-built valves to control the air flow.
  • A mouthpiece or a face mask is used to deliver the medicine that is transformed to aerosol mist. A mouthpiece is preferred to face mask, as it delivers the medicine much more effectively. Face masks are mostly used in infants and elderly, whereas a mouthpiece is recommended for those who can use it on their own.
  • These three main parts - machine, container and mouthpiece/mask, are connected with tubing. In case of a nebulizer with compressor, the compressed air travels through the tubing to the medicine container and converts the liquid medicine to aerosol mist, which is carried to the mouthpiece/mask with tubing.
  • In an ultrasonic nebulizer, the high-frequency vibrations convert the liquid medicine into aerosol mist, which is delivered through a mouthpiece/mask.
How to Use a Nebulizer?
Fill the Medicine Container: The first step is to put the liquid medicine in the medicine container attached to the device. It is important to understand that these devices accept medicine in liquid form only. Make sure that the medicine is added at the time of use and not before that. If the doctor has prescribed more than one medicine for equalization, make sure if they can be mixed or should be used separately.
Turn the Compressor On: Close the medicine container and connect its tube to the air compressor. Turn the compressor on and when the compressed air reaches the container, it will vaporize the medicine, creating a mist. The mist has to be inhaled by the patient, through the mouthpiece or face mask.
Inhale the Medicine: Take deep breaths and inhale the medicine that has been converted to aerosol mist. Tap the cup regularly to ensure the right dispensation of medicine. Do not remove the mask/mouthpiece, until the medicine is used up completely. It will take about ten to twenty minutes to finish nebulization.
Make it a point to clean and sterilize your hands as well as the medicine container before and after use, so as to prevent cross contamination. If administered properly, treatment with a nebulizer is effective in easing respiratory problems. One of the drawbacks of nebulizer treatments is that these devices require electricity to work. You will not be able to use a nebulizer while traveling or during power outages, unless it is a battery-operated one. Nebulizers are also noisy. Another speculation is about the dose of medicine administered by these devices. It is contended that a nebulizer might administer a higher dose of medicine than prescribed. This may lead to side effects, which are experienced rarely. Nebulizer side effects include irritation in the mouth, nose and throat, anxiety, jitters and increase in heartbeats. So, it is always advisable to use nebulizers under medical supervision or strictly according to the instructions of your doctor. If you experience dizziness, confusion or shortness of breath, soon after nebulization, then seek immediate medical attention.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice. Visiting your physician is the safest way to diagnose and treat any health condition.