Nebulizer

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]


Overview

A nebulizer with an attached inhaling apparatus

In medicine, a nebulizer is a device used to administer medication to people in forms of a liquid mist to the airways. It is commonly used in treating cystic fibrosis, asthma, and other respiratory diseases.

Also called "atomizers", they pump air or oxygen through a liquid medicine to turn it into a vapor, which is then inhaled by the patient.

As a general rule, doctors generally prefer to prescribe inhalers for their patients, not only because these are cheaper and more portable, but are often less potent and carry less risk of side effects. Nebulizers, for that reason, are usually reserved only for serious cases of respiratory disease, or severe attacks.

Newer, compact ultrasonic nebulizers are also available. These nebulizers, such as the Omron MicroAir series, use vibrating micro-mesh to produce the vapor. Nebulizers of this variety are rather expensive, and the micro-mesh is very delicate and sensitive to dust and debris.

Use and attachments

Nebulizers usually accept their medicine in the form of a concentrated liquid, sometimes viscous. These medicines are frequently steroids, and the reason they are inhaled instead of ingested is to limit their effect to the lungs and respiratory system only. Otherwise, that amount of steroid saturated throughout the body would be toxic. This liquid is loaded into the machine for use.

Bronchodilators such as Albuterol are often used.

Usually, the vaporized medicine is inhaled through a tube-like mouthpiece, similar to that of an inhaler. This has the added benefit of increasing portability, as well as allowing surrounding air to mix with the medicine, decreasing the unpleasantness of the vapor. The inhaling apparatus, however, is sometimes replaced with a standard rubber face mask, similar to that use for inhaled anaesthesia, for ease of use with young children or the elderly.

After use with steroids, the person who used the nebulizer must rinse his or her mouth because those steroids can cause yeast infection of the mouth (thrush). This is not true for bronchodilators; however, patients may still wish to rinse their mouths due to the unpleasant taste of many bronchdilating drugs.



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