If you have asthma – or if someone in your family does – then you probably know that asthma attacks and trips to the emergency room because of difficulty breathing are just no fun!  Doctors try to prevent these attacks by using a variety of medications that help reduce swelling and irritation in the airways and keep those airways open so you can breathe easy. Most of these medications will be delivered either through some sort of inhaler or through a nebulizer.  This article will take a look at the pros and cons of both.

Pros and Cons of Inhalers

Inhalers are small, handheld devices which deliver medication either through a compressed spray (these are called metered dose inhalers) and through inhaling a dry powder (these are called dry powder inhalers).

Inhalers are probably the most common way that people with asthma take their medicine.  They have many advantages. For one thing, they are small and easy to carry around in a pocket or backpack so that you always have them nearby when you need them.  Also, inhalers (unlike nebulizers) do not require a source of electricity, so you can use them wherever you need them as well.  It also delivers medication more quickly than nebulizers, and this can be important in an emergency situation where seconds count.

Inhalers are not a perfect solution, however.  Often, the medicine from an inhaler does not get down into the airways where it is needed the most (although using a spacer can help with this problem).  Also, for smaller children, it can be difficult to give the metered dose inhaler a proper squeeze in order to release the medication – and these same children can also struggle to use a dry powder inhaler, which in order to be effective relies on a child blowing in sharply so that the airways receive the medication that they need.

Pros and Cons of Nebulizers

Nebulizers are small, box-like machines which deliver medicine in the form of a mist, which a child breathes in while wearing a mask.

There are also many advantages to using a nebulizer. For one thing, it is easier for medications delivered in this way to get down into the airways and help to open them up. For another thing, a child does not have to have the manual dexterity or ability to breathe in sharply that they need for an inhaler: a nebulizer is more passive and allows the child to simply sit and breathe in the medicated mist.  This makes them a good choice for children who don’t have the strength in their hands to manage an inhaler or are simply too young to do this.

Even with all these advantages, however, nebulizers have their drawbacks.  For one thing, because of their size and shape, nebulizers can take up a lot of room and be more difficult to carry around.  Also, they need to be plugged into an electrical socket in order to use them.  They take a longer time to deliver the needed medication and are not as effective if children are upset by the inhaler and are crying.

Correct Use the Most Important Factor

The good news is that most studies have shown that nebulizers and inhalers are equally effective as long as they are used correctly. Unfortunately, many patients without realizing it do not use their nebulizers or inhalers the way they should – and this can lead to more asthma attacks down the road if the body is not receiving the medication that it needs. So even more important than choosing between an inhaler and a nebulizer is learning how to use your chosen device in the right way.  Talk to your doctor and make sure you know exactly how your device has to be used so that you start out on the right foot with your medication. If you know how to do it right from the beginning, practice will make you even better and soon you will feel very confident about being able to take your medicine on whichever device you have chosen.

It is also important to talk to your doctor about the medications that he or she has prescribed for you to take: some only may be available in either a nebulizer or an inhaler (but not both). There also may be other factors to consider before deciding which method it best for your individual needs.

So relax!  Studies have shown that both nebulizers and inhalers are effective for asthma management as long as they are being used correctly. This means that choosing the kind of medication delivery you prefer can be less important than making sure you know how to correctly use your device. So talking to your doctor about the right way to take you medicine – and sticking to the program to make sure that you get comfortable with it – are the best things you can do to make sure that you are following the game plan to control your asthma.