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Inhalers and Nebulizers

Several types of inhalation devices, or inhalers, are used in the treatment of asthma and other chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, such as emphysema. Inhalers are often effective in delivering medication directly to the lungs with fewer side effects than medication taken by mouth or injection. There are several types of inhalers. The type of inhaler will vary, depending on your medical history, preference, and the severity and frequency of your symptoms. Inhalers can contain anti-inflammatory medications or bronchodilator medications. The most common types of inhalers are:

  • Metered-dose inhaler (MDI). The most common type of inhaler, the metered-dose inhaler uses a chemical propellant (hydrofluoroalkane, or HFA) to carry the medication out of the inhaler. As of December 31, 2011, MDIs sold in the United States may no longer use ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) to propel the medication.
    A metered-dose inhaler is held in front of or inserted into the mouth as the medication is released in puffs. Consult your physician for specific instructions on how to properly use a metered-dose inhaler.

  • Nebulizer. A nebulizer is a type of inhaler that sprays a fine, liquid mist of medication. This is done through a mask, using oxygen or air under pressure, or by using an ultrasonic machine (often used by people who cannot use a metered-dose inhaler, such as infants and young children, and people with severe asthma). A mouthpiece is connected to a machine via plastic tubing to deliver medication to the patient. Consult your physician for specific instructions on how to properly use a nebulizer.

  • Dry powder or rotary inhaler. A breath-activated, non-pressurized dry powder inhaler that may be used for children and adults, this type of inhaler does not use CFCs to propel the medication out of the device. Consult your physician for specific instructions on how to properly use a dry powder or rotary inhaler.

Online Resources

American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology  http://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/library/at-a-glance/inhaled-asthma-medications.aspx
American Academy of Asthma, Allergy, and Immunology  http://www.aaaai.org/patients/publicedmat/tips/asthmaallergymedications.stm
American College of Chest Physicians  http://www.chestnet.org/downloads/patients/guides/inhaledDevices/patientEducation15.pdf
American Lung Association  http://www.lungusa.org/site/c.dvLUK9O0E/b.2222599/
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute  http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/guidelines/asthma/asthsumm.htm
National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute  http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/lung/asthma/have_asthma.htm
UpToDate  http://www.uptodate.com/index

© 2000-2011 Krames StayWell, 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.