What Conditions Are Treated with Inhalation Therapy?

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  • Written By: Maggie J. Hall
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 02 April 2020
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Physicians often prescribe inhalation therapies to treat chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, commonly called COPD. These ailments include asthma, bronchitis, and emphysema. Inhalation therapy entails using handheld or electrically operated devices, which deliver liquid, powder, or vaporized medications that improve breathing quality.

Asthma generally occurs because of an allergic reaction. Upon perceiving an antigen, the immune system triggers an inflammatory response, sending antibodies and chemicals to the site of the irritation. Muscles surrounding the airways constrict, closing breathing passages, which produces wheezing. During an asthma attack, individuals experience chest tightening, shortness of breath, and coughing. As airways become smaller and smaller, the event can become life threatening.

Health care providers often equip asthma patients with handheld inhalers that contain fast acting medications that reverse the effects of the reaction. By depressing a small canister snapped onto a plastic mouthpiece, patients receive an atomized dose of medication. Handheld inhalation therapy may also contain preventative medications that desensitize the body toward antigens by inhibiting the processes involved in an allergic response.

When inflammatory responses occur in the airways, causing narrowing and constriction, the condition is known as bronchitis. Acute bronchitis happens when upper respiratory infections invade the lungs. The swollen passageways typically cause tightening of the chest, shortness of breath and wheezing. Patients usually also have a low-grade fever and a productive cough. Household and outdoor antigens, along with physical activity, may exacerbate symptoms.


When individuals exhibit symptoms continuously for more than a month, the condition becomes chronic bronchitis. Additionally, chronic bronchitis patients often experience edema of the lower extremities and a blue tinge around the mouth from lack of oxygen. Inhalation therapy often includes supplemental oxygen, which replaces what the damaged lungs cannot deliver. Acute and chronic patients often use handheld and nebulizer inhalation therapies that emit bronchodilating medications and corticosteroids that reduce inflammation.

In the condition known as emphysema, destruction of the fibers around the air sacs in the lungs prevents normal expansion and contraction of the tissue. The air sacs become permanently expanded and filled with air. In a normal state, these air sacs contain chamber walls containing blood vessels. Air exchange occurs in between the oxygen filled chambers and the blood vessels. With sacs expanded, the chamber walls rupture, minimizing the surface area and the number of blood vessels available for oxygen retrieval.

Coughing, shortness of breath, wheezing, and the development of a barrel shaped chest are some of the symptoms accompanying emphysema. Symptoms might first appear with physical activity, but with the progression of the disease, symptoms become apparent at rest. Patients usually require supplemental oxygen inhalation therapy along with routine bronchodilating medications delivered by handheld and nebulizing inhalant devices.


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