Inhalers and nebulisers

Inhalers and nebulisers are medical devices that turn liquid medicines into a fine mist that you can breathe directly into your lungs. This helps to concentrate the medication where it needs to be, while reducing the amount of side effects you experience.

Inhalers

Hand-held inhalers are commonly used for mild to moderate asthma. A reliever (usually blue) contains Ventolin, which opens up the airways during an asthma attack. A preventer (often brown) contains a corticosteroid (e.g. beclomethasone), which are taken daily to reduce inflammation in the lungs and reduce the risk of an attack happening. Inhalers are small and portable, but some people find them fiddly and prefer to use a spacer cylinder.

Ask your doctor or pharmacist to show you how to use your inhaler effectively. To check whether an inhaler needs replacing, pull out the metal canister and shake – you should be able to feel liquid sloshing around inside it.

Nebulisers

Nebulisers are electrical appliances that deliver higher doses of medications into your lungs through a mask, which is useful in emergency situations. Nebulisers can deliver Ventolin, saline (to loosen mucus), antibiotics (e.g. colicin) or antifungals, although some must be delivered through a mouthpiece because they can leak around a mask and get into the eyes.

Jet nebulisers (e.g. Philips I-neb or Omron MicroAIR) use compressed gas to atomise medication or saline, and are suitable for sticky medications. Ultrasonic nebulisers use a rapidly-vibrating crystal, and are suitable for medication or saline (but are more expensive). Read this great article by Prescribing in Practice for more technical detail.

If your doctor recommends you to use nebulised medication then your care team may be able to arrange for you to borrow one without charge from the hospital and show you how to use it. However, if this is not possible then you may have to buy your own. It is important to clean the nebuliser in warm soapy water every day, and replace masks and tubing every 3 months.