Getting fast and effective relief from your symptoms when you suffer from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) can greatly improve your quality of life and even reduce the number of emergencies you experience. The most commonly prescribed form of treatment in COPD is inhalation therapy, usually short-acting and long-acting bronchodilators that are sometimes used in combination with corticosteroids. Bronchodilator therapy is so effective that a paper published in a 2002 issue of the European Respiratory Journal stated that numerous studies have debunked the concept that airflow limitation is irreversible in COPD with findings showing significant improvement in lung function with bronchodilator therapy.

Getting the best results from your bronchodilator requires proper use of the inhaler in order to get the full dose of your medication. An inability to do so may result in less effective treatment, a reduced quality of life, and more emergencies from poorly controlled symptoms. It is here where the benefits of nebulizers are most apparent.

How Nebulizers Work

Nebulizers are small devices that are used to administer various aerosol drugs used in COPD, such as bronchodilators and corticosteroids that many get through a traditional handheld inhaler. Antibiotics, anticholinergic and mucolytic agents can also be administered through a nebulizer. The difference between nebulizers and other inhalers is that a nebulizer turns the medication into a mist that goes directly into the lungs. There are two different types of nebulizers: pneumatic jet nebulizers and ultrasonic nebulizers. Though the way they pump the medication may differ from one another, the set up and use is similar for the person with COPD and both types administer the medication to the patient via a mouthpiece or a mask, depending on the needs of the person using it.

Why Nebulizers May Be Better for Those with COPD

Various studies performed looking at the use of nebulizers in COPD symptom management have shown benefits in the use of nebulizers. One 2002 study by the University of Missouri School of Medicine, Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Environmental Medicine, in Columbia found that common critical errors in the use of handheld inhalers were highly prevalent and often resulted in inadequate symptom relief in patients. They found that the use of pneumatic nebulizers was similar and in some ways superior to the use of handheld inhalers. They also found that nebulizers required less intensive training for COPD patients and were easier to use, recommending maintenance therapy using nebulizers for elderly patients as well as those with physical or cognitive limitations, and also for those with later stage COPD who experience more frequent exacerbations.

Another study performed in 2007 at the Department of Medicine at David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA in Los Angeles compared the efficacy of metered dose inhalers and nebulizers in COPD patients along with the effect each had on symptoms and quality of life. What they found was that patients who combined the two methods, using nebulizer therapy in the morning and at night with an inhaler used mid-day, had the most significant improvement in their quality of life. This was found to be because of the enhanced symptom relief that the nebulizer offered patients with the convenience of being able to use an inhaler when away from home.

The Benefits of Nebulizers for COPD Treatment

Nebulizers offer several advantages for patients with COPD over handheld inhalers. Though handheld inhalers may be more compact and convenient, they are not as easy to use effectively in the very young or the elderly, or by those who suffer from physical and cognitive limitations. Since a nebulizer delivers the medication to your lungs using a mouthpiece or a mask, you can be sure that the medication is all going where it is supposed to so that you are getting your full dose, which is something that handheld inhalers often fail to do. And because patient coordination isn’t necessary in the use of nebulizers, they are often the only option available to patients who are unable to administer the medication themselves.

Nebulizers are able to provide a much larger dose of medication and can be used for not only bronchodilators and corticosteroids, but antibiotics and other medications used in COPD treatment as well when the need arises.

Ease of use is known to lead to better compliance of therapy in patients which in the long run results in better controlled symptoms and a better managed disease.