• Boy with nebuliser - largeA nebuliser is a machine that converts liquid medication into a fine mist that can then be inhaled. They used to be used by many people to take their asthma medications, but these days are much less common as we have easier, faster and less expensive ways to take the medications.

    What does it do?

    A nebuliser pushes compressed air through liquid medication, which makes it a mist. This is then inhaled through either a face mask or a mouthpiece. A standard dose of medication takes 5-10 minutes to be inhaled. Several different types of medication can be taken through a nebuliser, including relievers and preventers. In some cases, oxygen is used in the nebuliser, but only if the person’s oxygen levels are low.

    Who should use a nebuliser? 

    Most people with asthma don’t need a nebuliser. It takes a lot more care to maintain the equipment, more time to take the medication, and the medication is much more expensive in liquid form. However, there are some situations where a nebuliser is still used:

    • If someone is really struggling to breathe in hospital or in an ambulance
    • If someone can’t use inhalers because they get confused, or have problems with their hands
    • For people who have a severe respiratory disease
    • For people who have lots of mucus and need the extra moisture in the nebulised treatment to help them clear out the mucus
    Aren’t nebulisers better than inhalers? 

    No. Taking the same dose of medication properly using a puffer with a spacer is at least as effective as taking it through a nebuliser, even when you are having an asthma attack. You can take the reliever medication faster and in a lower dose with a puffer and spacer, as it is delivered more effectively than through a nebuliser. One research study showed that children actually spent longer in the emergency department when they received reliever medication via a nebuliser rather than a spacer.

    Nebuliser machine - large

    Maintaining a nebuliser 

    There are a range of different machines available, and the one you choose must be suitable for your needs. Some plug into the car cigarette lighter and others have a built-in battery, but most plug into a power outlet. There are also ultrasonic nebulisers which tend to be smaller, lighter and more portable than others, but these are usually more expensive.

    To maintain your nebuliser properly:
    • parts need to be cleaned after each use,
    • tubing and the mask or mouthpiece must be replaced frequently (usually every 3 months)
    • filters must be checked, cleaned (where possible) and replaced regularly, and
    • the pump must be serviced every 6 to 12 months to make sure it is producing the right pressures 

    If you don’t follow the manufacturer’s cleaning and care instructions, you may not be getting the right dose of medication, and you are also increasing your risk of getting an infection from the machine. Talk to your pharmacist who may be able to help you, otherwise the nebuliser will need to be returned to the manufacturer / distributor for service and repair.

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