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What Is a Nebulizer Treatment?

Some users may prefer a nebulizer mask.
An inhaler is a compact, easy-to-use type of nebulizer.
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  • Written By: Meg Higa
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 22 October 2014
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A nebulizer is a device that atomizes a liquid into a fine mist. It has industrial applications but is most commonly known as an efficient delivery method of inhalant medication directly into the human lungs. Nebulizer treatment is frequently prescribed for a variety of respiratory diseases, and most of the medicines are either a bronchial dilator/constrictor or an antibiotic or antiviral medicine. Not to be confused with a pump spray, which has a small nozzle, a nebulizer converts a liquid into an aerosol. Several technologies are employed to accomplish this, and the different types of nebulizer treatments are appropriate for different patients.

The purpose of a nebulizer is to create an aerosol, a mixture of gas and liquid particles. For the two to coexist, the gas is ideally hotter than ambient air temperature, and the liquid is sufficiently particulated to suspend within it. For nebulizer treatment, droplets of liquid medicine must be reduced to less than 5 micrometers in diameter if they are to reach the bronchial capillaries deep within the lungs. Devices are commonly powered by two sources: pressurized gas or ultrasonic vibration.

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The former method was invented in the mid 19th century, utilizing a manual pump to pressurize air and force the liquid through an atomizer. Modern so-called jet nebulizers are attached to an electric compressor. Ultrasonic nebulizers were introduced in 1964. An electric oscillator generates high frequency ultrasonics that cause a piezo-electric element immersed in liquid to vibrate. In wave synch, the liquid vibrates so fast that its surface agitates and vaporizes.

A nebulizer treatment is best applied to medicine in liquid form which has a localized topical effect. The two most common pharmaceuticals are bronchial dilators that expand the lungs’ airways, such as adrenaline derivatives, and constrictors such as corticosteroids that reduce inflammation and contract the airways. Common afflictions relieved by nebulizer treatment include asthma, cystic fibrosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Other respiratory infections and diseases might require antibiotics in solution to be inhaled.

The aerosolized medicine is normally inhaled through a large tubular mouthpiece, which can be replaced with a face mask for pediatric nebulizer treatment. In most hospitals, a jet nebulizer is used, and it is connected to a tank of compressed oxygen that flows through liquid medicine at high velocity. It is, however, heavy and noisy. Given that most nebulizer treatments are a frequent, sometimes daily regimen, manufacturers have made an effort to produce a truly portable device.

Many physicians also have prescribed compact inhalers, powered by small canisters of pressurized propellant gases. Most such devices also incorporate a mechanism such as a valve for metering the dosage of the medication. Another alternative to the jet nebulizer is the ultrasonic nebulizer. It is tiny and silent in comparison. Further advances in the technology of ultrasonics are expected to enable those who need nebulizer treatment for their respiratory health to attend to themselves at home, or on the go, for a better quality of life.

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