The goal of drug treatment for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is to reduce the number and severity of attacks. This helps improve your overall health, including your ability to exercise. The most commonly prescribed form of treatment in COPD is inhalation therapy, including inhalers and nebulizers. The fast and effective relief of symptoms from a nebulizer can greatly improve your quality of life and even reduce the number of emergencies you have.

Nebulizers are small devices used to take various drugs that help manage COPD. These drugs include:

  • bronchodilators
  • corticosteroids
  • antibiotics
  • anticholinergics
  • mucolytic agents

Nebulizers use a motor to convert these drugs from liquid to mist. You then inhale the drug through a mouthpiece or a mask. Different types of nebulizers convert the medication to mist differently, but they are all are set up and used in similar ways.

Nebulizers and inhalers can be equally effective in many situations, but nebulizers are better in some instances. Nebulizers deliver a continuous mist of medication that you breathe for 10 to 15 minutes or longer. This allows you to breathe normally through your mouth during treatment.

On the other hand, inhalers produce short bursts of aerosol medication. With them, you need to coordinate your breath to inhale the medication quickly and deeply. Then you need to hold your breath to allow the drug to enter your system. If you’re having a lot of trouble breathing, inhalers may not deliver medication to your lungs as effectively as nebulizers could.

Also, certain drugs used for COPD, such as metaproterenol and acetylcysteine, can be delivered by nebulizers but not by inhalers.

There are three different types of nebulizers:

  • jet
  • ultrasonic
  • vibrating mesh

Jet nebulizers are the oldest type. They use compressed air to generate a fine mist. They are available in tabletop and handheld models. There are no COPD medication restrictions for jet nebulizers. However, they can be loud and difficult to clean.

Ultrasonic nebulizers are newer and much quieter than jet nebulizers. They are only available as handheld devices and tend to cost more than jet nebulizers. They use ultrasonic vibrations to generate a fine mist. Ultrasonic nebulizers can’t deliver certain COPD medications. This is because the device transfers heat from the ultrasonic vibrations to the medication.

Vibrating mesh nebulizers are the newest and most expensive kind of nebulizer. They are quiet and much more portable than other types. Newer handheld models are about the size of a remote control. These nebulizers can also be hard to clean.Because the mesh is delicate, they need to be cleaned and handled gently. Other types of nebulizers, on the other hand, can be cleaned by boiling them or running them through a dishwasher. All nebulizers need to be rinsed and dried after each use and cleaned more thoroughly once per week, so take the handling and care requirements into consideration.

Pros of nebulizers:

  • They take less training than inhalers to use correctly.
  • They may be more helpful and easier to use than an inhaler during a COPD attack.
  • They may be easier to use for taking large doses of a drug.

Cons of nebulizers:

  • They take a while to use, requiring 10–15 minutes of slow breathing.
  • They’re more expensive than inhalers.
  • They require a power source.
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If you have COPD, talk to your doctor about the best options for you to help manage your condition. Many different types of nebulizers and inhalers are available, with pros and cons for each. Either an inhaler or nebulizer may be the better option for you, or your doctor may suggest you use both to maximize the effectiveness of your treatment.