Your airways can swell and narrow as they become irritated and congested with mucus. This can make it hard for the medicine that you take to reach into the airways. Nebulizers turn liquid medication into an aerosol that is inhaled over a period of minutes, compared to a metered-dose inhaler, which delivers a quick blast of medicine all at once.

The term nebulizer is actually the name of the receptacle where the liquid medication is placed. The nebulizer unit refers to the machine that operates the nebulizer. There are a variety of different types of nebulizers and nebulizer units.

Jet nebulizers are used with air compressor-driven machines called nebulizer compressors and are approved for use with all available nebulizer medications.

Ultrasonic nebulizer units use sound waves to burst liquid molecules into mist. These units are usually very quiet or silent, and can be used with most nebulizer medications. Your provider will prescribe the nebulizer equipment that will most effectively deliver your specific medication.

View a demonstration on how to use a nebulizer.

To properly use your nebulizer, follow these steps:

  1. Put the mouthpiece in your mouth between your teeth and close your lips around it. If you have a facemask for use with the nebulizer, adjust the mask to fit over the nose and mouth. Place the elastic band over the back of the head to keep the facemask in place.
  2. Hold your nebulizer upright. This will keep the medication from spilling and make it easier for the medicine to change into a mist form.
  3. Gently breathe out.
  4. As the mist begins, breathe in slowly and deeply over three to five seconds.
  5. Hold your breath for up to 10 seconds to allow the medication time to settle in your airways.
  6. Resume normal breathing.
  7. Occasionally tap the side of the nebulizer in order to help the solution drop to where it can be transformed into a mist.
  8. Continue these steps until the nebulizer begins to sputter, signaling that the complete dose of medication has been administered.

Here are some tips on using and maintaining your nebulizer:

  1. Carefully read the instructions on the package of your nebulizer unit, even if you've received personalized home instruction prior to use.
  2. Order replacement supplies when you first receive the nebulizer, so that you'll have them when you need them.
  3. Carefully assemble your nebulizer, following the manufacturer's instructions for your specific nebulizer model.
  4. Clean your nebulizer according to package instructions after each use. If you don't, bacteria will grow in the nebulizer. Be sure to throw away any tubing that gets cloudy or retains moisture.
  5. Keep your nebulizer and related supplies in a clean, dry, and dust-free place when it's not in use.
  6. Follow the manufacturer's instructions regarding the replacement of disposable parts, tubing, and filters.
  7. Never use a nebulizer cup longer than indicated in the instructions. Doing so will result in slower, less efficient delivery of your medication.
  8. Be sure to use a mask or mouthpiece when giving or taking a nebulizer treatment. The mask will ensure that the medication reaches the airways.
  9. If you use a portable, battery-operated nebulizer, be sure to keep the batteries charged or have replacement batteries available.
  10. Use only FDA approved dose vials or other liquid medications made specifically for nebulizers. Your provider will guide you regarding your choices.