What is a Nebulizer? Types, Uses, Cleaning, and More

Written by Resurchify | Updated on: February 13, 2023

What is a Nebulizer? Types, Uses, Cleaning, and More

Let us learn about a nebulizer, its types, uses and advantages of using it.

A nebulizer is a small medical device that turns liquid medication into tiny droplets (aerosol or mist form) that can be inhaled using a mouthpiece or mask. This makes it easier and faster for the lungs to absorb the medication. Many different kinds of drugs can be administered using nebulizers. The medications and moisture help in regulating breathing issues including wheezing and aid in releasing lung secretions.

Other inhalers can be substituted using a nebulizer. An air compressor that is plugged into an electrical outlet powers a nebulizer. This machine typically comes in electric and battery-operated varieties, and they can either be carried around or are designed to rest on a table and be plugged into a socket. These are home (tabletop) and portable models. In general, portable nebulizers are slightly more expensive than home models.

The size of a home nebulizer is greater and one must plug it into an electrical outlet. Portable nebulizers can be powered by batteries or an electrical socket in the car. Both types of nebulizers consist of a base for an air compressor, together with a little vial for liquid medication, and a tube connecting the medicine container and the air compressor. The chamber’s liquid medication is forced via air by the compressor. The liquid medication becomes mist as a result.

One sits with the device and inhales the mist using a mouthpiece or mask that is placed above the drug container.  A nebulizer is useful for several lung ailments such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), bronchiectasis, pulmonary fibrosis, and cystic fibrosis. It is a useful tool for administering medication to very small children and those receiving palliative care.

Nebulizers enable the medication to reach the lung and respiratory system where it is needed. Also, it may be occasionally prescribed by a physician for a child suffering from a respiratory ailment like bronchiolitis. These are easy to use and suitable for both adults and children. They offer an equal level of care as inhalers but just require patients to breathe normally. This is an efficient approach for delivering vital treatments such as bronchodilators or corticosteroids to the body.

Generally, to obtain a nebulizer, one must have a prescription from a physician or other healthcare professional. In some situations, one can buy a nebulizer online without the need for a prescription, but one will still need the doctor to prescribe the drug. It is crucial to consult the physician before purchasing a nebulizer because some drug makers may specify a particular model.

Nebulizers can be a useful substitute for infants who have trouble breathing because they can use them. Infants can breathe normally and take their prescribed medications. Nebulizers can also help infants who have pneumonia and the respiratory syncytial virus, as well as croup, a virus that produces coughing that resembles barking in young children. This device is beneficial when a greater dosage of an inhaled drug is required. 

Although adults may find it simpler to take their medications, nebulizers are still useful. They provide a constant supply of medication, in contrast to inhalers. This implies that one can manage other chores while using it. When patients may lack the strength or ability to operate the devices, nebulizers are an efficient approach for administering required medication during palliative care.

Most patients use portable handheld inhalers to take their regularly prescribed inhaled medications or to treat infections and clear the airways. Nebulizers can be used during emergencies in case one is having a hard time breathing and requires a high dosage of reliever medicine. Paramedics or members of the hospital might supply reliever medications using a nebulizer.

This device is useful at home also in case of very critical conditions and when someone is not capable of using an inhaler (sometimes due to arthritis) or if nebulized medicines are more effective than inhalers. Those suffering from lung conditions feel it is easier to use and is equally efficient, mainly if utilized with a spacer. A nebulizer can be used with a variety of medicine kinds, including the following:

  • Bronchodilators: These medications aid in widening the airways and ease breathing. People who suffer from COPD, asthma, or other respiratory conditions are frequently given bronchodilators by their doctors.
  • Sterile saline solution: Use a nebulizer to administer sterile saline to assist widen airways and reduce secretions. This could loosen the mucus in the lungs and make it simpler to cough it up.
  • Antibiotics: When a person has a serious respiratory illness, a nebulizer can deliver specific antibiotics directly into the lungs or respiratory system.

Types of Nebulizer

The majority of nebulizers produce drug-containing mist utilizing air compressors. An alternative type employs sound waves and is known as an ultrasonic nebulizer. This medical device can be classified into three categories-

  • Jet- Using a pressurized gas such as air, jet nebulizers turn medication into an aerosol (minute particles of medication in the air. These nebulizers are the most popular kind.
  • Ultrasonic- Utilizing high-frequency vibrations, this type of nebulizer produces an aerosol. Compared to a jet nebulizer, the particles are bigger. These are normally not for personal use and are most frequently utilized in hospitals. They cost a lot of money and are quieter. Here, the medicine becomes misty when subjected to higher-frequency vibrations.
  • Mesh- The aerosol is created by liquid passing through a very thin mesh cap having tiny holes. The tiniest particles are released by this type of nebulizer effectively. Additionally, it is newer, most costly, and more efficient than jet nebulizers.

Whether a mouthpiece or mask is appropriate for a person or their child should be discussed with the doctor. Because young children breathe more through their noses than older kids or adults do, face masks that cover the mouth and nose are frequently preferable for them. Medicines of nebulizers are generally supplied using a mask.

In the case of certain people with specific medications, one might be recommended to utilize a mouthpiece as it will prevent probable side effects if the medicine gets in the eyes or on the skin. A mouthpiece might also be the best method for delivering the maximum amount of medicines. One should consult their doctor if they are confused regarding whether to use a mouthpiece or mask with the device.

Nebulized therapy is frequently referred to as breathing therapy. It can be used with multiple drugs to treat asthma symptoms as well as provide immediate relief. These consist of using corticosteroids to combat inflammation (like fluticasone, triamcinolone, flunisolide, and budesonide), bronchodilators for opening the airways (like salmeterol, levalbuterol, formoterol, and albuterol), etc.

How to Use a Nebulizer?

A doctor or nurse will describe the nebulizer’s operation and address any queries before a patient begins using it to provide medication. When a person buys a nebulizer from a pharmacy or a manufacturer, anyone there will show them how to use it. Every nebulizing device functions a little bit differently. Reading the directions for the specific equipment which the doctor has advised is essential. 

Take the prescription exactly as directed every time. One must adhere to the doctor’s recommendations for when and how to use a nebulizer. This medical accessory can take around 10 to 15 minutes to use. One should use the nebulizer in a room with good lighting. Select a quiet area of the home for receiving therapy without interruption. While undergoing treatment, sit comfortably in a chair with a straight back.

Nebulizers typically require only a few simple steps for setup and operation- 

  • Put the compressor on a table or other flat, strong surface that can support its weight.
  • Connect the compressor’s wire to a three-pronged outlet that is correctly grounded.
  • Be sure that all components are cleaned first.
  • Using a clean towel, fully dry the hands after washing them with soap and water.
  • Get to know the components of the nebulizer.
  • Attach the plastic tubing to the air compressor and liquid container.
  • As per the doctor’s prescription, put the drug into the nebulizer cup. Many nebulizers have vials with pre-measured unit doses. Use a different, spotless measuring tool for each medicine if a person needs to measure the medication themselves.
  • The medicine cup should be closed firmly to prevent spills, and the mouthpiece should be kept consistently straight up and down.
  • After attaching the top portion of the nebulizer cup, connect the mouthpiece or face mask to the cup.
  • The mouthpiece and the medicine cup should be connected to the opposite end of the hose.
  • Use the on/off switch to turn on the compressor and check that it is functioning properly. A thin mist should be visible coming from the tube’s back. The nebulizer might be electrical or battery-powered.
  • Get comfortable in a chair and sit up straight. If any child is receiving this treatment, they can sit on their parent’s lap. Keep the medicine cup and mouthpiece upright and ensure that the entire medication is delivered using the nebulizer.

The mask should be firmly placed over the mouth and nose when used by an adult. Make sure it is comfortable and safe. If a mouthpiece is used, it should be placed between the child’s or the adult’s teeth and tightly enclosed with the lips to make sure that all of the medication enters the lungs. Wearing a mask is typically more beneficial for little children.

  • Breathe slowly, normally, and deeply through the mouthpiece. Inhale the entire dose of medication till it is finished except if the doctor instructs one to do otherwise. There will be barely any liquid left in the cup, and the nebulizer will start to sputter.

In the case of every fifth breath, if possible, it should be a calm, deep breath and one should hold it for 2-3 seconds before exhaling. This enables the drug to enter the airways and settle down. Depending on the tool and medication used, this can take 5-20 minutes.

  • If one feels nervous or light-headed, they should slow down their breathing or they should pause the treatment and take a 5-minute break. Again, continue the procedure while attempting to breathe more slowly. Some medications may give one a jittery or wobbly feeling. Although this is not usual, one should inform their doctor if they experience these issues repeatedly while receiving this treatment.
  • When finished, turn the machine off.
  • Before the next treatment, one should clean the medicine cup and mouthpiece using water and let them air dry.
  • Use soap and water to wash the hands and dry them using a fresh towel.

One can shake the nebulizer cup to loosen any medication that might have stuck to the sides while using it. Physicians generally advise their patients regarding the frequency and duration of the nebulizer treatment. While using a portable nebulizer is similar to using one home nebulizer, there is no requirement for plugging it in. The majority of models can be held in hand.

A nebulizer uses pressured air to deliver liquid medication. Although people with asthma frequently utilized both inhalers and nebulizers, there are times when a nebulizer might be more convenient for use, mainly for small children who don’t know the correct method for using an inhaler. An inhaler, however, is usually the best option when airways get congested, such as during an asthma attack, as a nebulizer might need little time for setting up.

Based on particular requirements, the doctor will decide which medications one needs to use a nebulizer for. One might get pre-mixed liquid in containers that one can open and put in the machine or one might require mixing the solution themselves before every use.

How to Clean a Nebulizer

The nebulizer equipment needs to be cleaned and sanitized frequently to avoid infection. One should clean it away from open windows, dust, and smoke. The doctor or nurse will demonstrate how to clean and maintain the device. The nebulizer requires cleaning because one is breathing the mist it produces. Inadequate disinfection could allow bacteria and other pathogens to flourish inside the equipment.

The general guidelines for cleaning the device are-

  • Make sure to disconnect the device before cleaning it.
  • Wash the nebulizer cup with warm water after every use. Shake off any extra water and let it dry naturally. Every day in the end, the mask or mouthpiece and nebulizer cup should be using warm, soapy water with a mild detergent. Rise completely and let it air dry. It should be noted that the tube connecting the nebulizer and air compressor doesn’t require cleaning.
  • As advised, sanitize the nebulizer once a week or more frequently. After cleaning the equipment every third day, disinfecting it using a vinegar/water solution or a disinfectant solution is necessary. Combine ½ cup of white vinegar and 1 ½ cups of water for making the vinegar solution.

The equipment should be submerged in water for 20 minutes before being thoroughly rinsed. Remove any extra water by shaking it out, then air dry it on a piece of paper. Once everything is dry, connect the nebulizer and run air through the device for 20 seconds. If necessary, one can use a warm, moist towel to wipe the machine’s exterior. Place it in a plastic zipper bag for storage.

Moreover, after cleaning the nebulizer, one can use any of the following techniques to disinfect it. Any one of the following cold disinfection techniques should be used in the case of disposable nebulizers-

  • Spend 5 minutes soaking in 70% isopropyl alcohol.
  • Spend 30 minutes soaking in 3% hydrogen peroxide.
  • Spend 30 minutes soaking in a solution of 1 part white vinegar to 3 parts water.

Rinse thoroughly and let air dry after using any of these methods. Nebulizers that are not disposable can be sterilized as previously mentioned. Additionally, they can be cleaned using any of the below-mentioned heat disinfection techniques-

  • 5 minutes of boiling.
  • 5 minutes in the microwave in a bowl of water.
  • 30 minutes at 158 degrees Fahrenheit in the dishwasher.
  • Utilize an electric steam sterilizer.

For storage, when not in use, wrap a clean towel around the compressor. When performing treatment or while storing, one should not place the air compressor on the floor. Keep it in a dry, cold environment. Medication should be kept in a cool, dry area. Some must be stored in a refrigerator, while others must be kept away from light. Always check them frequently. Throw them out and get new ones if they have developed crystals or changed colour.

It is crucial to adhere to the cleaning, sanitizing, and replacing guidelines. Three to four times a year, one would require to replace certain parts. To find out how to do this and how frequently, one should go through the instruction manual. Furthermore, one should never share any pieces with anyone else. The inner portion of the tube cannot be properly cleaned, so it must be replaced regularly. One should be sure to maintain a dust-free environment for their nebulizer.

How frequently one needs to replace the tubing should be explained by the healthcare provider. As recommended, examine the air compressor’s filter. When testing, cleaning or changing the air compressor’s filter, adhere to the equipment’s instructions. Also, one should always keep a spare nebulizer cup, mouthpiece, and mask available. The equipment supplier can help one to get everything they need for nebulizer therapy. If one receives a breathing treatment in the office of their doctor, request a tube, cup, and mask.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Using a Nebulizer

There are certain pros of using a nebulizer, such as-

  • It helps in the delivery of medicines effectively. This device functions more rapidly than systematic drugs because they deliver medication straight to the lungs. The time it takes for systematic drugs to enter the bloodstream and begin working can be as long as 30 minutes.

However, nebulizers can deliver the medicines one requires in just 5 minutes. In the case of breathing treatments, speed is a major benefit. Also, using a nebulizer several drugs can be administered together. 

  • These devices are simple to operate. Though inhalers offer equivalent advantages, users must breathe in as the drug is released. A nebulizer’s straightforward design helps users to unwind and concentrate on other things. Young users will find them to be considerably easier to control as a result. They are simpler to use during an asthma attack because they don’t require one to take big breaths. 
  • Nebulizers have a preventive potential. They can quickly administer medication, but they can also be used to stop respiratory conditions from worsening or from emerging in the beginning. The bronchial passages can be widened by regularly taking long-term bronchodilators.

In contrast, steroids lessen lung inflammation and the production of mucus, allowing oxygen to circulate easily. Nebulizers are also useful in an emergency because they can help in the fast treatment of acute respiratory problems.

  • It has a flexible design and anybody from infants to elderly people can benefit from these medical gadgets. They can provide a straightforward cure for a variety of diseases, and can even be used on others by parents or healthcare professionals, and there are portable or home versions available.
  • Nebulizers have fewer adverse reactions. There are numerous potential adverse effects associated with oral drugs which might be worrying. Thankfully, this device has a lot fewer adverse effects than other medical gadgets, including a lower chance of temporary problems such as rapid heartbeat, tremors, and headaches.

However, there are a few drawbacks of nebulizers-

  • Unlike an inhaler, even portable devices won’t fit into a pocket. Nebulizers also tend to take longer to act than inhalers, even if they are far quicker at it than oral drugs.
  • They must be properly cleaned after each use or there will be contamination of the mist and the medicine won’t work well as it should. 
  • They frequently need a permanent power source.
  • Finally, because these devices might be more expensive than other forms of treatment, it is advisable to discuss the options with a doctor.


Hence, nebulizers are a fantastic option for giving drugs to both young and old, since they are convenient and simple to use. It transforms liquid drugs into a fine mist for the lungs to easily absorb them. They come in a variety of styles so which form is most effective for a person will be advised by their doctors.

This equipment must be properly used, cleaned, and maintained according to the guidelines of the pharmacist, doctor, or manufacturer. They are frequently used in conjunction with inhalers and are used to treat many medical disorders associated with the lungs and respiratory system.

Thank you for reading!


  • ‘5 Benefits of Using a Nebulizer Machine’ by Home Care Pharmacy. Home Care Pharmacy, November 1, 2022. Available from: < >
  • ‘Nebulizer’ by WebMD Editorial Contributors. WebMD, March 15, 2022. Available from: <,them%20into%20a%20car%20outlet. >
  • ‘Home Nebulizer’ by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional. Cleveland Clinic, November 19, 2019. Available from: < >
  • ‘Nebulizers: What they are and how to use them’ by Nicole Galan. Medical News Today, April 12, 2019. Available from: < >
  • ‘How to use a nebulizer’. Medline Plus, September 12, 2022. Available from: < >
  • ‘Nebulisers’. Asthma + Lung UK, August 2021. Available from: < >


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