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Nebulizer Use for Children


What is a nebulizer?

A nebulizer is a device that turns liquid medicine into a mist. The medicine may be an antibiotic or medicine for your child's lungs. The nebulizer is usually connected to a machine that pushes air through the nebulizer. The air helps turn the medicine into a mist. As your child breathes, the mist of medicine gets into his lungs. When a nebulizer is used it is called a breathing treatment or nebulizer treatment.

Nebulizer (Child)

Why does my child need breathing treatments?

Breathing treatments are used to treat the swelling in your child's airway, shortness of breath, coughing, and wheezing. These can be caused by any of the following:

  • Chronic respiratory diseases, such as asthma and cystic fibrosis
  • Lung infections, such as pneumonia
  • Severe allergic reactions

How might my child receive a breathing treatment?

The way your child receives nebulized medicine depends on his age and coordination. It also depends on your child's ability to understand how to use the device. A breathing treatment may be given in any of the following ways:

  • A face mask may be used for children of all ages. It should cover your child's nose and mouth completely.
  • A mouthpiece may be used by children older than 4 years old. Your child places the mouthpiece between his lips. He breathes in and out through his mouth.
  • A nasal cannula may be used for babies and children up to 4 years old. The nasal cannula prongs are placed in your child's nose. A high flow of air pushes the medicine through your child's nose and into his lungs.
  • Blow-by technique may be used if your young child is crying or irritated. It allows treatment to be given when your child will not cooperate. With blow-by, the mask is held away from your child's face. The mist is directed toward your child's mouth and nose.

How do I prepare the nebulizer for my child's breathing treatment?

  • Wash your hands. Use soap and water. Always wash your hands, or have your child wash his hands, before preparing the nebulizer for use.
  • Prepare the machine for your child. 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 child's medicine is premixed, open it and place it in the nebulizer medicine container. If you have to mix medicines, place the correct amounts into the container using a dropper or syringe.
  • Add saline if needed. You may need to add saline (saltwater) to your child's medicine container. Buy sterile normal saline at a pharmacy. Do not use homemade saline solution in a nebulizer.
  • Connect the container. Connect the medicine container to the machine using the tubing. Connect the mask or mouthpiece to the top of the container.

How should I give my child a breathing treatment?

  • Place the mask on your child's face. You may need to distract an infant or younger child during the treatment. Distraction, such as a movie or favorite toy, may help to keep him from removing the mask.
  • Have your older child place the mouthpiece in his mouth. Make sure the mouthpiece is between your child's teeth and his lips are closed around it. Your child should breathe in and out slowly through his mouth until all the medicine is gone.
  • Turn on the machine. Keep the medicine container in an upright position. The whole treatment usually takes 8 to 10 minutes. It may take longer. 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 clean my child's 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. You can also, attach the nebulizer pieces to the machine. Turn the machine on to dry the nebulizer quickly. Make sure all pieces are completely dry before storing them away.
  • Disinfect every other day after treatment. Soak the nebulizer parts, except the mask, in 1 part diluted white vinegar and 3 parts hot water. Let them soak for 1 hour. Rinse the parts, shake off excess water, and let them air dry. When you are finished cleaning the nebulizer parts, you can also, attach the nebulizer pieces to the machine. Turn the machine on to dry the nebulizer quickly. Make sure all pieces are completely dry before storing them away.

When should I call 911?

  • Your child's breathing gets worse after a treatment.
  • Your child complains of chest tightness.

When should I seek immediate care for my child?

  • Your child develops a rash or hives after a treatment.

When should I contact my child's healthcare provider?

  • Your child's symptoms are not completely relieved after a treatment.
  • Your child has problems with taste or smell.
  • Your child has a dry or sore mouth or throat
  • Your child complains of a headache.
  • Your child is restless or has tremors.
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your child. 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.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.