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Breathing problems and chronic respiratory conditions can lower a person’s quality of life. To help ease the symptoms and keep the person feeling well, medications or drug-delivery devices like nebulisers can be a great help. They are relatively easy to use and are effective in delivering medication directly to the lungs.
Continue reading as we explain what a nebuliser is for, how they work, and the different types of nebulisers. We also discuss the pros and cons of using a nebuliser and offer tips on how to clean and care for your own device.
What is a nebuliser?
Nebuliser is a small machine or piece of medical equipment that turns liquid medication into a fine mist or vapour. Then, through a mask or mouthpiece, you breathe in the mist, allowing the medicine to go straight into your lungs. All you have to do is stay still and breathe in. It can take 5 to 15 minutes for the medication to get into your lungs.
Nebulisers can be electric- or battery-powered. Home or tabletop models are usually bigger and need a stationary power source like an electrical outlet. Portable nebulisers, on the other hand, can be carried in a bag or briefcase and can run on batteries or be plugged into a car outlet.
A range of lung disorders and respiratory conditions may benefit from using a nebuliser. These include:
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Cystic fibrosis
- Pulmonary fibrosis
Nebulisers can also be used to give medication in palliative care and to very young kids.
How does nebuliser work?
A nebuliser has four parts:
- The air compressor
- The medicine cup (nebulising chamber)
- The air tubing
- The nebuliser mask or mouthpiece
The liquid medication is placed into the medicine cup or nebulising chamber, which is connected to the motor through the tubing. The nebuliser mask or the mouthpiece is attached to the cup and covers the nose and mouth (or the mouth and lips), allowing the patient to relax as the medicine flows freely.
When the device is turned on, it delivers a mist into the mask, which you can breathe in. The machine forces air through the medication that is in the cup or chamber. This then converts the liquid medicine into a mist, which is breathed in via the mask or nebuliser mouthpiece, through the air tubing.
What are the different types of nebulisers?
There are various types of nebulisers available. The three most common ones include:
These use compressed air or gas to make an aerosol out of the medication. Jet compressor nebulisers are the most common type of nebulisers. They require a power source and are typically used at home.
These use high-frequency vibrations or ultrasonic sound waves to make an aerosol. Compared to jet compressor nebulisers, the particles in ultrasonic nebulisers are larger. They can also be expensive, which is why they are commonly used in hospitals.
These use a mesh cap with multiple holes that help deliver the medication. Mesh nebulisers have the smallest particles of all three and they are also newer, almost silent, as well as small and compact.
How to use a nebuliser
Your healthcare provider or nurse will explain to you how the device works, as well as how often and how to use your nebuliser. They may also create a plan on what to do when the unit is not working as it should or when it breaks down.
Below are some general instructions on using a nebuliser:
- Wash your hands before using the equipment or handling the medication.
- Pour the medication into the nebuliser medicine cup and close it tightly after doing so.
- Connect the hose or the tubing to the compressor and liquid container.
- Attach the mask or mouthpiece or the nebuliser cup.
- Turn on the nebuliser, making sure that it is working properly. You’ll know this when you see a light mist from the back of the tube.
- Place the nebuliser mouthpiece in your mouth or place the mask over your nose and mouth. If you use a mouthpiece, seal your lips firmly around it and if you’re using a mask, make sure it is secure and comfortable.
- Breathe in through your mouth (not your nose) slowly and deeply. Continue doing so until the medicine is gone.
- Turn off the machine when finished.
- Clean the mouthpiece and nebuliser medicine cup with water or recommended cleaning solution. Air dry and store it properly until your next use.
What are the pros and cons of using a nebuliser?
Nebulisers have a number of advantages for both young and adult patients, especially those who suffer from respiratory illnesses. These devices, however, also have their limitations and disadvantages related to cost and operation. Below are the pros and cons of nebulisers.
Pros of nebulisers
- Easy to use; you just have to breathe normally
- Particularly beneficial for kids and older patients with limited hand mobility
- Can be useful when you’re having an asthma attack
Cons of nebulisers
- Not all nebulisers are light and easy to carry or transport.
- Most types of nebulisers need a stable power source.
- It can take several minutes for the medication to be delivered (longer than an inhaler).
How to clean and care for your nebuliser
To make sure that the device is in good working order, you need to clean and maintain your nebuliser after each use. Do take note that if the machine is dirty or not cleaned properly, bacteria and mould could grow inside it. It is recommended to wash the nebuliser parts, including the mask or mouthpiece and medicine cup.
You may be able to get nebuliser care and maintenance information from your healthcare provider, hospital, or manufacturer. Here are some basic instructions for cleaning and caring for your nebuliser.
- Wash your hands first.
- Disconnect the cup, mask, and nebuliser mouthpiece.
- Use warm soapy water when washing the cup and mask or mouthpiece.
- Rinse it thoroughly using clean water and let it air dry.
Cleaning and caring for compressor nebulisers
If you’re using a jet compressor nebuliser, follow the basic cleaning steps after each use. Disconnect the device and rinse all pieces under warm running water. Shake off excess water and let them air dry on a paper towel. You don’t have to wash the tubing or compressor.
Cleaning and caring for mesh nebuliser
When cleaning a Caremax mesh nebuliser after each use, remove the mask or mouthpiece adapter from the main unit. Then, remove the medication cup and pour out any remaining medication. Place the medication cup back on and fill the medication cup with very hot water, close it, and press and hold the power button for 5 seconds to enter the deep cleaning mode. This will prevent any medicine from sticking into the mesh. For better cleaning result, connect the device to the main power using USB cable provided or make sure the brand new battery is used. It is recommended to clean before and after use every time.
Then, disconnect all remaining pieces. Wash the parts in a bowl of warm water and dish soap. Rinse well and place them in a towel or a clean surface to air dry.
Cleaning and caring for ultrasonic nebuliser
For ultrasonic nebuliser, disconnect the device from the power source first before cleaning it thoroughly. The outside of the main unit should not be washed or rinsed off with water. Use a clean damp cloth or mild cleaner to wipe it.
Disassemble all pieces (mouthpiece, mask, water reservoir, medicine cap, nebuliser filter and cover, and fan) and clean them in warm, soapy water. Rinse thoroughly and let them air dry completely before storing or using the nebuliser again.
Disinfecting or sterilizing your nebuliser
You will also have to disinfect your nebuliser once a week or according to manufacturer’s instructions.
- Disassemble the nebuliser mask/mouthpiece and medication cup.
- Soak all detachable parts in a disinfection solution. You can make your own solution using one-part white vinegar and two parts sterile water.
- Soak them for 30 minutes or as recommended by your manufacturer.
- Rinse all the pieces under warm running water.
- Shake off or remove excess water and lay them out to dry overnight.
Storing your nebuliser
Proper storage and maintenance help make sure that your treatments are effective. Here are a few basic tips on storing your device and medication for safety:
- Once the pieces have been washed and completely dried, place them in a zipper bag or airtight container.
- Store it in a cool, dry area. Make sure not to put the compressor on the floor when using or storing it.
- Unplug or disconnect the unit from the power source when not in use.
- Keep all parts and the main unit free of dust.
- When it comes to medications, keep them in a cool dry place. Do take note that some may need to be refrigerated and kept away from heat or light.
- Check your medications often. If they have changed colour or smell, or formed crystals, discard and replace them with new ones.
When buying a nebuliser and related accessories, familiarise yourself with the warranty and coverage. Keep in mind that warranties for certain parts and accessories may differ depending on the manufacturer. Here are some details worth keeping or knowing about.
- Proof of purchase – This includes receipts and any other information materials that comes with your nebuliser.
- Coverage time – This covers the device for a specified period, beginning on the date you purchase the nebuliser.
- Nebuliser parts and accessories – Some manufacturer warranties do not cover the parts and accessories except when they are broken or not working at the time of purchase.
- Compressor coverage and warranty – Most warranties will cover the device’s compressor unit within a specified time period (from the date of the purchase).
- You have a role to play – Damage due to neglect or abuse (like failing to follow proper care and operating instructions) may not be eligible for service or coverage.
- Contact information – The nebuliser warranty contains specific instructions to follow in case you need warranty service after the purchase.
When to replace nebuliser parts
You may need to replace some nebuliser parts to ensure that everything is working properly. Changing the device’s set regularly is also essential in making sure that you are receiving an efficient and effective treatment.
- Tubing – If it is worn out or has cracks or holes, the tubing needs to be changed immediately. See the device’s manual for specific instructions for replacing the tubing associated with the type you are using.
- Mesh medication cup or filter – This needs to be cleaned in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. The medication cup of the Caremax Mesh nebuliser can last for six months before replacement. When it comes to the nebuliser filter, it depends on the model. Consult the manual for further instructions.
- Nebuliser set or parts – If the device is not producing a mist or not working as it should for quite some time, it is probably time to replace it. For reusable sets, they should be changed every six months and for disposable ones, every 10 treatments.
If your nebuliser slows down and stops working and you can’t troubleshoot it on your own, check the information materials that come with the equipment. Check the warranty and contact information of the manufacturer or see a technician for further guidance on repairs or replacement.
Nebulisers are drug-delivery devices that convert liquid medication into a fine mist that is inhaled into the lungs. They can be helpful in a range of respiratory conditions and are used alongside other medications and devices like inhalers.
Nebulisers come in different types and have their pros and cons. If a healthcare provider suggests that you use a nebuliser, they will let know which type suits you best, as well as advise you on how to use your nebuliser and how to properly care for it.