How to use a nebulizer (AKA breathing machine)

nebulizerNebulizers are used to treat many wheezing conditions, such as asthma and bronchiolitis. A nebulizer uses air that is forced through medication and turns it into a fine mist. This mist is breathed into the lungs using a mask or mouthpiece. This allows medication that can help breathing to be delivered to the lungs.

Using your nebulizer

  • Make sure air compressor is plugged into outlet
  • Use clean nebulizer and medicine cup
  • Measure amount of saline and medication (or premixed medicine) ordered and place in nebulizer medicine cup
  • If it is time for both prevention medicine and rescue medicine, it is okay to add both to the chamber
  • Attach air tubing to nebulizer and machine
  • Attach mask or mouthpiece to nebulizer cup
  • Placement to the patient:
    • Mouthpiece: Place mouthpiece in your mouth between your teeth and close lips tightly. It is important to breathe in from the mouth, out from the nose. Until the technique is mastered, plug the nose during inhalations.
    • Face mask: Attach to the face with the elastic band if possible (the further it is from the face the more medicine escapes and the treatment loses effectiveness).
  • Hold nebulizer upright
  • Turn machine on (there should be a mist coming from nebulizer)
  • Continue until all medication is gone (about 7-10 minutes). When the mist slows, you can shake the medicine cup and flick it with your finger to help the last drops of medication be nebulized.

Cleaning

Cleaning correctly and as directed will help prevent infections that can be caused by germs that grow on or in dirty nebulizers.

After each use

  • Remove tubing from nebulizer
  • Take nebulizer pieces apart
  • Rinse all parts (except tubing) in warm water
  • Wash mouthpiece with soapy water
  • Shake off excess water and allow to air dry
  • Tubing does not need to be washed
  • If humidity builds up in the tubing, leave it attached to the air compressor and turn the compressor on for several minutes

Deep clean 3 times a week (i.e., Monday, Wednesday, Friday)

  • Remove tubing from machine and nebulizer
  • Place pieces in plastic bowl in warm soapy water and soak 20 minutes
  • Rinse well in clean water
  • Soak 20 minutes in 1 cup white vinegar and 4 cups water (or 1:4 ratio
  • Rinse well again in clean water and shake off excess water
  • Allow all pieces to air dry overnight

Once a week

  • Wipe outside of machine with damp cloth

Once a month

  • Check air filter and replace as needed

Store all equipment in the casing provided or in a plastic bag when not in regular use.

Replace nebulizer (not air compressor) every 3-6 months.

Medications for the nebulizer

Quick relief and rescue medications (Albuterol, Levalbuterol, Xopenex)

  • Use when wheezing is occurring or as otherwise directed
  • Store in refrigerator for longer availability
  • Throw them away if discolored or crystals forming

Prevention medications (Pulmicort, Budesonide)

  • Used daily to prevent wheezing by decreasing airway inflammation
  • Continue daily use (or double the dosage as directed by your physician) when having a flare up of wheezing
  • Rinse mouth (and face if using a mask) after each use to prevent thrush

Visual Instructions

For more visual instructions, read our How to use a Nebulizer PDF.