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How To Use A Nebulizer

What is a nebulizer?

A nebulizer is a device that is used for breathing treatments. It changes liquid medicine into a mist. The mist goes into your lungs when you inhale (breathe in).

How does a nebulizer work?

A nebulizer consists of a machine to power the nebulizer and a tube that connects the machine to the medicine container. The medicine is changed into a mist in the medicine container. The machine or container has a valve that can increase or decrease the amount of mist you receive. You breathe in the mist through a mask or mouthpiece.

How do I use a nebulizer?

  • Wash your hands: Use soap and water.
  • Prepare the machine: Place the machine on a hard surface. Check to see if the air filter is clean. If it is dirty, rinse it using cold water and let it air dry. Plug in the machine.
  • Prepare the medicine: If your medicine is premixed, open it and place it in the nebulizer medicine container. If you have to mix medicines, place the right amounts into the container using a dropper or syringe.
  • Add saline if needed: You may need to add saline (saltwater) to your medicine container. Buy sterile normal saline at a drugstore. Do not use homemade saline solution in a nebulizer.
  • Connect the container: Connect the medicine container to the machine.
  • Attach the mask or mouthpiece to the container:
    • Adults and older children: Place the mouthpiece in your mouth. Breathe in and out slowly through your mouth until all the medicine is gone.
    • Infants and younger children: Place the mask on your child's face. You may need to distract your child during the treatment to keep him from removing the mask.
  • Start the treatment: Turn on the machine. Keep the medicine container in an upright position. You may need to tap the sides of the container toward the end of the treatment. This will help the last of the medicine become mist. The whole treatment may take 8 to 10 minutes. The treatment is over when all the medicine is gone or there is no more mist coming out. The machine may also make a sputtering noise when treatment is done.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of a nebulizer?

  • Nebulizers can be used by anyone of any age. You can mix more than 1 medicine, and they can all be given at the same time. High doses of medicines can be used. The medicine is delivered as you breathe normally. No special breathing techniques are needed to use a nebulizer.
  • The machine is noisy and needs an electrical power source for it to function. Compared to other inhalation devices, it is larger, less portable, and has a longer treatment time.

How do I take care of my nebulizer?

  • Clean after each use: Wash the container and mouthpiece or mask with dish soap and hot water. Shake off the excess water and let the parts air dry. Remove any mucus or medicine stuck to the machine or tubing.
  • Disinfect at least 3 times a week: Soak the nebulizer parts in diluted white vinegar or the disinfecting solution that your caregiver recommends. Soak for as long as directed. Rinse the parts and let them air dry.

What should I know about my child's nebulizer?

There should be a snug fit between your child's face and the mask for the medicine to reach his lungs. Your child may not receive the medicine if he cries or tries to fight the mask. Do not hold the mouthpiece or tubing near your child's nose or mouth. This will not deliver the medicine to his lungs. Quiet inhalation is the best way for the medicine to reach your child's airways. Encourage your child to play quietly during the treatment.

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

  • Your hands, arms, or legs shake after the treatment.
  • You have a fast heartbeat and feel dizzy.
  • You have a fever and sore mouth or throat.
  • Your symptoms do not improve, even with treatment.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You have shortness of breath.
  • You feel confused or sleepy after your treatment.
  • You suddenly have chest pain.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2015 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.