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2.5 What is a nebulizer?




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This article is from the Asthma FAQ, by Patricia Wrean and Marie Goldenberg mwg@radix.net with numerous contributions by others.

2.5 What is a nebulizer?


A nebulizer is a device that uses pressurized air to turn a
liquid medication into a fine mist for inhalation. If you've
ever received emergency treatment for asthma, they've probably
used a nebulizer on you.

The term nebulizer is often used to describe both the pump
that pressurizes the air, and the part that holds and
"nebulizes" the medication. There are hand-held nebulizer
units and ones with masks that you strap onto your face.

The pressurized air typically comes from a portable pump unit
that internally consists of a motor-driven air pump that
resembles the fancier types of aquarium pumps. It forces air
through a plastic tube into the plastic nebulizer unit. Inside,
the nebulizer unit acts much like a perfume atomizer, creating
a fine mist that is directed either through a tube that you
inhale through or a mask that directs the mist into your nose
and mouth.

Since the nebulizer takes a few minutes to deliver the medication,
you inhale it over a longer period of time than if you were using
an inhaler. This can really help, especially if your passages are
not fully open and you're taking a bronchodilator. As you breathe
the medication, your lungs can gradually accept more and more of
the medication. In addition to the medication, many people find
the accompanying mist (typically a sterile saline solution) to be
soothing.

For very young children, the nebulizer is the only practical
means of administering inhaled medications. Older children and
adults have the options of using inhalers and a variety of
spacers to make the timing a bit easier. The doctor overseeing
the treatment decides which is the most effective/appropriate
delivery mechanism.

At least in Massachusetts, the nebulizer pump unit, the
hand-held nebulizers, the medications, and the sterile saline
inhalation solution are all prescription items. Replacement
parts for the pumps are not available to the general public
(if there are sources, I'd like to hear about them).

The portable nebulizer pump units cost little ($100-$300)
relative to the cost of an emergency room visit, so some health
plans / insurers provide them to patients for times when an
asthma episode is "manageable but not dangerous." This seems to
be a trend in the management of pediatric asthma.

Our family has been able to successfully avoid a few trips to
the ER, and have even been able to head off some more severe
allergic asthma episodes with early intervention. After a few
rather gruesome visits to the Mass. General Hospital's waiting
room on a Saturday night, we welcome opportunity to treat our
children at home, when it's safe. We tend to go in to the doctor
or ER for the more severe episodes or those that don't respond
well enough to early intervention.

Contributed by: Mark Feblowitz mfeblowitz@GTE.com


 

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