Nebulisers

What is a nebuliser?

A nebuliser is a machine that helps you to breathe in a medicine as a mist through a mask or a mouthpiece.

lady using a nebuliser
Someone using a nebuliser

What does a nebuliser do?

A nebuliser converts a solution of a drug into a fine spray. You then breathe in the spray. Nebulisers use oxygen, compressed air or ultrasonic power to break up the liquid drug to deliver the dose you need.

What's a nebuliser used for?

If you live with a lung condition, you may inhale medications to clear your airways, relieve your symptoms and prevent flare-ups. Inhaled medications can relieve:

  • wheezing
  • breathlessness
  • chest tightness

and help control build-ups of phlegm and mucus.

Most people use handheld inhalers to take their drugs. You may use a nebuliser to inhale medication to clear your airways or to treat infections:

  • in an emergency, if you are struggling to breathe and need a high dose of your reliever medicine, or you need antibiotics to treat an infection. Paramedics and hospital staff may give it to you through a nebuliser.
  • at home if your condition is very severe, and inhalers are not as effective as nebulised medicine.
  • if you can’t use an inhaler – because of another health condition, such as arthritis. Nebulisers are also used for babies and very small children.

Only use the nebuliser to take the medicine prescribed specifically for you to use in it.

For most people with lung conditions, especially for people living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma, using a handheld inhaler is easier and just as effective. But if you live with cystic fibrosis or bronchiectasis, your health care professional may arrange for you to use a nebuliser at home.

What are the different types of nebulisers?

There are a many different types of nebulisers available, such as jet nebulisers and ultrasonic nebulisers. Ultrasonic nebulisers can be expensive and are not often used outside hospitals.

Medications are usually administered through a mask. For a few, you may be advised to use a mouthpiece. This may be the best way to deliver the maximum amount of medication. For example, if you live with bronchiectasis, to get the most hypertonic saline solution into your lungs to help clear mucus.  Or it may be to avoid the possible side effects if a medication gets in your eyes. Check with your health care professional if you’re not sure.

 

Next: Who can benefit from using a nebuliser? >

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Last medically reviewed: August 2018. Due for review: August 2021

This information uses the best available medical evidence and was produced with the support of people living with lung conditions. Find out how we produce our information. If you’d like to see our references get in touch.