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What is a Nebulizer?

By O. Wallace
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A nebulizer, also known as an atomizer, is a machine that vaporizes liquid medication into a fine mist to be inhaled into the lungs via a mouthpiece or mask. A nebulizer is used to administer medication primarily for those with asthma, but also for those with cystic fibrosis or other respiratory illnesses. Although studies have shown that both inhalers and nebulizers tend to be equally effective in delivering medications, nebulizers are preferred for use in more serious rescue situations when one is experiencing a severe asthma attack. Nebulizers can administer a higher dosage of medication, but inhalers are easier to use, preferred for their portability and low cost and good for everyday use.

Nebulizers can vary greatly in size and can run on either electricity or battery power. It consists of a compressor that pumps oxygen through plastic tubing into a cup that holds the liquid medication. Once the oxygen mixes with the liquid, it is delivered in vaporized form through the mouthpiece or facemask to the lungs.

Under normal circumstances, it should take about five to fifteen minutes to complete the nebulizer treatment. However, if a child taking the medication is uncooperative or crying, the treatment may take longer or the effectiveness of the dose may be reduced. A face mask may also need to be used for the elderly or for those unable to use an inhaler themselves.

Medications used in a nebulizer usually include Albuterol, which is a bronchodilator, as well as Atrovent, which is also known as ipratropium bromide. In order to use a nebulizer, a child must have some degree of coordination and be able to cooperate in order for the medicine to be delivered effectively. One of the benefits of using a facemask with a nebulizer is that an infant or elderly person can passively receive the medication when the mask is strapped on and he or she is sitting quietly.

In the case of an emergency involving a power outage, or when a patient needs a nebulizer treatment on the road, there are some nebulizers available on the market with batteries or cigarette lighter adapters. As with any piece of medical equipment, a nebulizer should be sanitized after each use per manufacturer’s instructions.

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Discussion Comments
By anon997819 — On Mar 04, 2017

Is the medicine used in a nebulizer the same as that used in the hospital?

By anon249061 — On Feb 19, 2012

@anon105899: Doctors don't prescribe children a nebulizer for no reason. She probably doesn't have symptoms because she is on it.

By anon160662 — On Mar 16, 2011

can a nebulizer be used for allergies?

By anon132580 — On Dec 07, 2010

can a nebulizer be used for treatment of a cough or flu?

By anon105899 — On Aug 23, 2010

my sister gives my niece a nebulizer treatment and she has absolutely no coughing and no asthma. I'm so confused! why would she need it? i think it's just for attention.

By anon83134 — On May 09, 2010

you can continue even if the child is crying.

By leh1969 — On Mar 14, 2009

If my child is receiving a nebulizer treatment and is crying should I continue the treatment or stop and wait 5 minutes?

By adeluisa — On Feb 22, 2009


I was offered a nebulizer that uses proton instead of compression. What is the benefit?


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