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Nebulizers vs. Inhalers: How To Choose The Best Option

Doctor holding nebulizer mouth piece

Not every repository disease such as COPD, asthma, and cystic fibrosis are the same, just like lung devices aren’t the same either. Depending on your age, condition, and personal preferences it can be hard to choose between a nebulizer or inhaler. Learn about both devices to determine which might be a better fit for your respiratory illness.

Nebulizers Vs. Inhalers

Both inhalers and nebulizers are available through prescription only to serve the purpose of delivering inhaled medicine to the lungs. Both devices deliver similar types of medicine and work well when used properly.  Also, you may qualify to have your device covered through insurance.

What is a Nebulizer?

A nebulizer is a small compressor that attaches to a mouthpiece or face mask to turn liquid medicine into a fine mist that can be inhaled by patients. Inhaling the medicine this way allows it to go directly to the lungs and respiratory system.

Depending on the nebulizer medication, people usually have two treatments a day for about 15 to 20 minutes. People and children can participate in other activities during their treatments as long as they’re relaxed and able to take deep breaths.

Nebulizers are considered to be a bit easier to use because you simply inhale medication directly into the lungs. Inhalers have to be correctly aimed. For this reason, they can be seen as a little intimidating to use, making nebulizers the better choice for small children that are too young to use an inhaler or adults who have been weakened by their illnesses.

Clinicians often prefer to use nebulizers in emergency rooms because they are easier for patients to use, as they don’t have to do anything accept take deep breaths. Inhalers take a bit of practice to learn the technique,

How To Use A Nebulizer

Using a nebulizer machine is a fairly easy process. Generally, a doctor or nurse will explain how to use the device and answer any questions that you may have. Each machine is different, so be sure to read the instructions once you receive yours.

Most nebulizers require the following simple steps:

  1. Wash your hands.
  2. Add your medicine to the cup, according to the prescription’s directions.
  3. Connect the mask or mouthpiece to the tubing and machine.
  4. Turn your nebulizer on.
  5. Wear the mask or hold the mouthpiece in your mouth to help deliver the medicine.
  6. Take slow deep breaths to inhale all of the medicine during your entire treatment.

Nebulizer Pros

  • Easier to use
  • Pediatric nebulizers assist children
  • Can be used during other activities
  • Long-lasting and durable

Nebulizer Cons 

  • Even though there are portable nebulizers they are larger than inhalers and can be more difficult to carry around.
  • They need to be cleaned after every use.
  • The treatment sessions are longer.

What is an Inhaler?

An inhaler is a small handheld device used to get the medicine directly into the lungs. The medicine is a mist or spray that is released by the patient as they inhale. Unlike pills or liquid medications that have to be swallowed, asthma medication quickly works to open the airways for faster relief.

There are a few different types of inhalers: 

Controlled inhaler: A controlled inhaler everyday inhaler is used twice a day about 12 hours apart to prevent flareups or worsening symptoms by administering medicine to control inflammation. They can also be used before exercising or outdoor activities.

Rescue inhaler: a rescue or quick-relief inhaler is used to help get your breathing back under control in the event of wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, or coughing.

Metered Dose Inhaler (MDI): MDIs are the most common type of inhaler. They release a metered dose of medicine like little aerosol cans once pushed.

Dry Powder Inhalers: Dry powder inhalers deliver medicine in a powdered form. It does not spray out. The user must inhale the medicine quickly and deeply.

How To Use An Inhaler:

Every inhaler is different, so refer to the direction that comes with your particular model.

  1. Shake your inhaler up and down for about five seconds.
  2. Remove the cap and make sure nothing is in the mouthpiece.
  3. Slowly exhale. Be sure to push out as much air as you can.
  4. Place the mouthpiece of your inhaler in your mouth and create a tight seal around it with your lips.
  5. Slowly inhale through your mouth and slowly press down on the button.
  6. Continue inhaling as deeply as you can.
  7. Hold your breath and slowly count to 10 before exhaling.
  8. Place the cap back on your mouthpiece and make sure it’s tightly sealed.
  9. Rinse your mouth with water, gargle, and spit. This step is optional, but it helps reduce the side effects of certain medicines.

It’s important to correctly aim your inhaler to send your medicine directly to your lungs. Also, be sure to inhale and press the button down at the exact right time to receive your medicine. Otherwise, you could miss and the medicine could hit the top of your mouth, tongue, or teeth.


Inhalers take a little practice to master and your doctor will demonstrate how to properly use the device. You can add a spacer to your inhaler to make it more effective an easier to use.

An inhaler spacer is a tube that attached to the mouthpiece of your inhaler. They act as a holding chamber to slow down the delivery of your asthma medication, making it easier to direct it deep into your lungs. Spacers need to be cleaned after each use.

Note: Spacers can’t be used with dry powder inhalers.

Inhaler Pros: 

  • Smaller and easier to carry around
  • Faster treatments
  • Quicker relief during asthma attacks
  • Don’t require a power source

Inhaler cons: 

  • They take practice to master
  • You may need a spacer attachment
  • You have to correctly aim the mouthpiece

Should I Use An Inhaler Or Nebulizer?

This is a great question to ask your doctor based on your condition. Both inhalers and nebulizers can provide relief for respiratory illnesses when used correctly. Be sure to try both devices to see which one you’re more comfortable with. Your physical abilities may be a determining factor in this decision.

With either option be sure to:

Know how to use it.

When you get your prescription ask for instructions on how to use your nebulizer or inhaler. Then when you get your device refer to the instructions. You can contact the manufacturer if you have any questions.


Use it at the correct times.

Understand when to use your inhaler or nebulizer and how many times a day. Know if you should use it in the morning or before physical activities, once a day or twice a day, or if it’s only for flare-ups.

Use the right amount.

Know exactly how much medicine to use each day. Carefully measure it for your nebulizer cup. If your normal dose fails to control your breathing seek medical attention instead of using more medication.

Understand your medicine.

Bronchodilators relax the muscles around the airways, helping them open up, while inhaled corticosteroids help reduce swelling in the airways. You may need both types of medication depending on your condition, so be careful not to mix them up.

Don’t run out.

Keep track of how much medicine you have left to make sure you never run out. Always pick up your refills on time. It can also be helpful to have a backup inhaler or nebulizer on hand in case your device breaks.

Information provided on the Aeroflow Health blog is not intended as a substitute to medical advice or care. Aeroflow Health recommends consulting a doctor if you are experiencing medical issues or concerns.


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