How to Use a Nebulizer for Asthma

Nebulizers are devices that aerosolize liquid asthma medication—convert it into a mist—so that it can be inhaled directly into the lungs. When delivered in this fashion, the medication can take effect sooner and decrease the potential for systemic side effects.

Nebulizers are an alternative to metered dose inhalers (MDIs) and dry powder inhalers (DPIs).

Using a nebulizer at home
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Although it hasn't been proven to be the case in research, some people who've used both a nebulizer and an inhaler with a spacer report their asthma is more improved with a nebulizer.

Select the Right Nebulizer for You

There are three types of nebulizer for asthma medicine:

  • Jet
  • Ultrasonic
  • Mesh

Which type you use will depend on a number of factors including cost, personal preference, your healthcare provider's preference, and the kind of asthma medication you take. Your insurance plan may also play a role. Some medications, like budesonide, can only be delivered in certain nebulizer types.

Jet nebulizers deliver medication via a liquid mist of medication inhaled through a mouthpiece. The liquid mist is created using compressed air and the medication is then inhaled into the lungs. These nebulizers can be large, bulky, and require an electrical power source.

Ultrasonic nebulizers use ultrasonic waves to create your asthma medication into a liquid mist that is delivered to the lungs. These nebulizers do not require an additional liquid other than your asthma medication so the treatment time is often less than with a jet nebulizer. These nebulizers are often smaller, more compact, portable, and battery powered, making treatments and travel easier.

Examples of ultrasonic nebulizers include:

  • Beetle Neb
  • Lumiscope
  • Minibreeze

Mesh nebulizers are the fastest and most expensive of all the nebulizers. These nebulizers force your asthma medication through a mesh screen to produce a liquid mist that you can inhale into the lungs. While these nebulizers offer many of the conveniences of ultrasonic nebulizers, the mesh can sometimes get clogged or break- putting your asthma control in jeopardy. The fine mists make them among the most efficient in delivering medication.

Examples of mesh nebulizers include (these are all portable and have the ability for battery operation):

  • eFlow (Pari)
  • Aeroneb Solo (Aerogen)
  • Aroneb Go (Aerogen)
  • MicroAIR/NE-U22 (OMRON)
  • I-neb (Respironics)

Other designs are increasingly becoming available. The Pari LC is designed to release more particles during inhalation compared to exhalation. In this manner, less medication is wasted and more gets into your lungs. Circulaire and AeroTee nebulizers also decrease waste by having medication collected into a bag that you are breathing in and out of. Finally, the AeroEclipse nebulizer is breath actuated so that aerosol is only released during inhalation.

Portable nebulizers can be a little tricky and you will want to consider which one is a good for you.

Plug in Your Nebulizer

To use your nebulizer, begin by placing the compressor on a flat surface and plugging it into an electric outlet. Make sure your nebulizer is positioned in a place that you will be comfortable since you will be here for at least a little while depending on the type of nebulizer you have.

Add Medication to Your Nebulizer

After washing your hands to prevent an infection, add your nebulizer medication as instructed by your healthcare provider or asthma doctor.

In general, your practitioner will prescribe your asthma medication in one of two ways.

You may have to add a certain number of drops of a medication to the nebulizer cup. Or, your healthcare provider may prescribe your medication as a unit or single dose of medication that comes in individual, prepackaged, and disposable containers.

When you've added the medication, make sure you tightly close the nebulizer cup to prevent your medication from leaking out.

Connect All the Nebulizer Pieces

Next, connect all of the pieces of your nebulizer.

  1. Unwind your nebulizer tubing.
  2. One end of the tubing will be connected to the compressor's air source.
  3. The other end of the tubing will be connected to the bottom of your nebulizer cup.
  4. Make sure both ends are firmly connected.

Use Your Nebulizer

After connecting your nebulizer, follow these steps to use it appropriately.

  1. Make sure that you are in a comfortable position, sitting upright. If using a mouthpiece (t-piece), place it between your teeth and over the tongue so that your lips can comfortably make a seal. If a mask, place it over your mouth and nose.
  2. After positioning the nebulizer, turn it on.
  3. Make sure you see a fine mist coming from the nebulizer. If you don't, check to make sure all the connections are appropriately sealed.
  4. Relax and breathe deeply in and out until all the medication is gone.
  5. You will know that it is time to stop when the nebulizer starts to sputter. You may still see some fluid in the cup after you finish your treatment. It depends on the medicine and type of nebulizer, but most treatments take approximately 10 to 15 minutes.

Clean Your Nebulizer

After each medication treatment, disconnect your nebulizer (t-piece or mask) from the tubing and take it apart. Rinse nebulizer cup with warm water, and then shake off the excess water and let air dry. Do not clean the tubing; if water gets inside, make sure to replace.

At the end of every day, make sure you wash all nebulizer parts in warm soapy, water and then rinse well. Just as before, shake off excess water and allow them to dry completely on a dish rack or clean towel. When completely dry, reassemble and keep in a cool dry place.

Some nebulizer parts are dishwasher safe, but make sure to read the instructions that came with your nebulizer or check with the retailer you bought it from beforehand.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. NHLBI Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Treatment of Asthma. Expert panel report 3: guidelines for the diagnosis and management of asthma.

  2. Biddiscombe, Martyn. (2017). Inhaler characteristics in asthma. European Respiratory & Pulmonary Diseases. 03. 32. doi:10.17925/ERPD.2017.03.01.32.

  3. The Cleveland Clinic. Home nebulizer instructions.

Additional Reading

By Pat Bass, MD
Dr. Bass is a board-certified internist, pediatrician, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Physicians.