How to Choose the Right Nebulizer

Last updated Apr 7, 2015

Nebulizers, Compressors, Portable and Desktop

A modern nebulizer system turns liquid medications for respiratory diseases into a fine mist that can be inhaled. Your doctor may determine that a powered nebulizer, instead of a metered-dose inhaler alone, may help you maximize the use of the inhaled medication to treat and manage asthma, COPD, cystic fibrosis and other respiratory conditions.

Desktop nebulizer systems are designed for home use and tend to be larger but cheaper.

Mabis MiniComp

Your doctor and respiratory therapist are the best resource for helping you choose the right nebulizer type or system that works with your prescribed medications. Still their recommendation might be broad and generic. They also might not take your lifestyle into consideration. Most consumer nebulizers on the market today fall into two categories:

Desktop Nebulizer Systems

  • Often require a firm, flat surface and AC power for indoor use
  • May have built-in compartments, therefore can be bulkier, to store oxygen tubing, medication cups and electrical cords
  • Likely based on proven piston-pump technology (see below) to generate mist
  • May be weighted at the bottom to increase stability for pediatric use
Portable nebulizers are handheld and have multiple power sources.

Portable nebulizers are handheld and have multiple power sources.

Portable and/or Handheld Systems

  • Are designed for handheld operation at home or on the go
  • May use piston-pump or ultrasonic technology to generate mist (see below)
  • Offer multiple ways to power your nebulizer: with AC power, a car charger, or rechargeable battery

Advances in technologies have helped similar nebulizer systems consistently produce finer mists without the bulky housing of the past. If you use a nebulizer only at home, a bulky housing may not matter much. And they tend to be more cost effective. Nebulizer technologies fall largely into three categories:

Piston-Pump Compressor Nebulizers (Jet Nebulizers)

  • High-velocity air created by a piston-powered compressor helps aerosolize liquid medication in the nebulizer cup so you can inhale the medication as a mist
  • Tends to be heavier and noisier, but cheaper, than ultrasonic nebulizers

Ultrasonic Wave Nebulizer

  • Vibrating a metal plate at ultrasonic frequencies creates a mist in the medication cup, which is then mixed with air for easy inhalation
  • Creates slightly smaller and more uniform aerosols than compressor nebulizers
  • Operates almost silently, comes in compact, portable forms, and costs more than jet nebulizers

Ultrasonic Vibrating Mesh Technology Nebulizer (“Mesh” Nebulizer)

  • A membrane, or mesh, with thousands of tiny holes vibrates at ultrasonic frequency to pump out a mist which is then mixed with air for inhalation
  • Operates nearly silently, comes in compact, portable forms, creates uniform particles with little waste
  • The most expensive of all types of nebulizers

Disposable parts are also important to keep in mind when choosing a nebulizer system.

Air filters: Nebulizer compressors usually require an air filter that should be replaced every 30 days or whenever it becomes dirty.

Nebulizers: Manufacturers recommend that disposable nebulizers be replaced every two weeks, while reusable nebulizers be replaced every six months. They should still be cleaned regularly according to manufacturer instructions.

Cleaning and Maintenance: Cleaning instructions vary according to manufacturer and the technology used in a nebulizer system. Regular cleaning and maintenance go a long way in helping you get the most use of your nebulizer system.

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