Benefits and Limitations of Inhalers and Nebulizers

by John Bottrell Health Professional

When nebulizers and inhalers were introduced to the world during the 1930s and 1950s, respectively, this was exactly the gift people with lung diseases, like asthma, yearned for since the beginning of time. This meant they now had an easy means of inhaling the medicine needed to control and treat their disease.

Nebulizers were invented first, and were certainly appreciated, but you couldn't stuff one in your pocket and take it with you to work or school. So when inhalers were introduced, they quickly became the top choice for those who needed respiratory medicine. But even inhalers had their limitations.

So, let us investigate the advantages and disadvantages of the preferable inhaler before we investigate the same for nebulizers.

The benefits of inhalers:

  1. Allow for immediate application of medicine to airways, ideal for asthma and COPD medicines.

  2. Small, light-weight, and easily portable in a purse, pocket or suitcase.

  3. Relatively easy to use with proper instructions.

The disadvantages of inhalers:

  1. Small, portable, and relatively easy to lose, sometimes resulting in a hunt to find one, often in cough cushions and under beds

  2. Difficult for some people to coordinate, particularly young children, mentally challenged, and the elderly.

  3. Require a certain inspiratory flow to actuate medicine, making them less ideal during asthma and COPD flare-ups, or during the end stages of COPD.

  4. It's easy to use an inhaler quickly (puff-puff) without anyone knowing.

The nice thing about these disadvantages is that there is an easy alternative, and that is to have your doctor prescribe a nebulizer. Of course, these too offer advantages and disadvantages.

The advantages of nebulizers:

  1. Allow for immediate application of medicine to airways, ideal for asthma and COPD.

  2. Relatively easy to use, and quite easy to coordinate (just breathe normal).

  3. Easy to inhale the medicine, regardless of airflow limitation caused by flare-ups and end stages of COPD.

  4. Nebulizers and air compressors are less portable and more likely to be found right where you left them (making them a good backup if you can't find your inhaler).

The disadvantage of nebulizers:

  1. Most air compressors require electric source.

  2. Most affordable nebulizers are not easily portable.

  3. Nebulizer treatments generally take about 10-20 minutes, posing a challenge in today's fast-paced society.

For most folks who require respiratory medicine, inhalers work just great. For those who would benefit, nebulizers offer a viable alternative. If you think one or the other would benefit you, please consult your physician. Nebulizer or inhaler: Which one works best for your child?

John Bottrell
Meet Our Writer
John Bottrell

John Bottrell is a registered Respiratory Therapist. He wrote for HealthCentral as a health professional for Asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).