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Inhalers and Nebulizers

Several types of devices are used to deliver medication in a fine mist directly into the lungs. They are used to treat asthma and other lung diseases, such as chronic obstructive lung disease (COPD). These devices cause fewer side effects than medication taken by mouth or injection. 

Types of Inhalers

The type of device you are given will depend on your:

  • Age

  • Ability

  • Medical history

  • Personal choice

  • Severity and frequency of your symptoms

The most common types of inhalers are:

  • Metered-dose inhaler (MDI). This is the most common type of inhaler. A metered-dose inhaler uses a chemical to push the medication into the lungs. It is held in front of or put into the mouth as the medication is released in puffs.

  • Nebulizer. A nebulizer is a machine that sprays a fine, liquid mist of medication. The medication is delivered with a mouthpiece or mask. Nebulizers are often used by people who cannot use metered-dose inhalers, such as infants and young children, and people with severe asthma.

  • Dry powder or rotary inhaler. Dry powder is inhaled with these devices. They are activated by your breath. They may be used by children and adults. It’s important to keep these inhalers dry so that the powder doesn't clump together.

Medications

These devices may deliver both quick-relief and controller medications. For example:

  • Corticosteroids to reduce airway swelling and inflammation

  • Bronchodilators to open narrowed airways

  • Other medications for some lung conditions

Talk with your health care provider, nurse, or pharmacist about how to use the inhaler or nebulizer prescribed for you. Also make sure you read and follow the instructions that come with the device. And, make sure you know how to keep your inhaler or nebulizer clean.

Online Medical Reviewer: Holloway, Beth, RN, M.Ed.
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically-affiliated clinician
Date Last Reviewed: 6/26/2014
© 2000-2014 The StayWell Company, LLC. 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.
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