Nebulizer V.S. Inhaler

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This is the age-old question...which is more effective...a nebulizer treatment or an inhaler (aka: MDI, metered-dose inhaler).  The answer is not that cut and dry as there are pros and cons to each way to administer inhaled medications.

What is an Inhaler?

It is a small, portable way to have your medication handy.  It requires no electricity, it is discrete, and highly effective if taken correctly. It is a hand-held, small plastic holder that a cannister of medication fits into. The medication is dispensed by pressing down on the medication canister while simultaneously inhaling to get the medication into the lungs. Each “puff” is pre-measured so that you get the amount you need by normally taking two puffs per use. It is a way for people who are active to be able to remain active and still have access to their inhaled medications anywhere they may be. Most MDI’s have a counter on them letting the user know how much medication is left in the cannister.

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Advantages of Inhalers

  • Portable
  • Effective if used correctly
  • Affords much more independence to the patient
  • Discrete
  • Excellent for emergency use

Disadvantages of Inhalers

  • Expensive (some insurances do not cover)
  • Often taken incorrectly (most of the medication ends up in the mouth or back of the throat due to poor technique)
  • Requires good hand coordination (difficult for arthritic patients to activate the medication)
  • Can get lost easily due to its small size

Nebulizer Treatment Pros

  • Better particle deposition of the medication which equates to a better outcome(s)
  • For some patients, it is more a more effective treatment
  • If using a mouthpiece, most of the medication ends up in the lungs where it belongs
  • Medication covered by Medicare in the US if used through a medical device (i.e.: table-top nebulizer compressor)
  • Less expensive than MDI
  • Still the “gold-standard” of care for breathing issues

Nebulizer Treatment Cons

  • Not portable needs electricity to use (unless using a battery-operated nebulizer)
  • Noisy when using
  • Treatment can take anywhere from 5-10 minutes to complete
  • Cross-contamination can occur from not cleaning equipment properly
  • Involves lots of disposable items that need constant replacement



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