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Helping Your Child Use a Nebulizer

Help your child get the most out of their asthma treating nebulizer. These simple guidelines show you how.
By Hilary Parker
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Sometimes children’s allergy symptoms don’t stop with a stuffy nose and watery eyes. If your child has allergic asthma, the most common form of asthma, exposure to allergens like pollen and mold can cause breathing passages to become swollen and inflamed. Childhood allergies that trigger asthma can lead to wheezing, shortness of breath, and difficulty breathing. 

When that happens, your child’s doctor may prescribe the use of a breathing machine called a nebulizer. The following Q & A will help you teach your child how to get the most benefit from using a nebulizer.

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What Is a Nebulizer?

A nebulizer is a machine that’s used to deliver asthma medication to the lungs. It does this by converting liquid medication into a mist. The mist can then be inhaled.

What Medications are Delivered With a Nebulizer?

There are several types of allergic asthma medicines that can be delivered by a nebulizer. They include:

  • Inhaled corticosteroids. These drugs have been used for more than half a century. They reduce breathing passage inflammation, bronchial tube swelling, and the overproduction of mucus.
  • Bronchodilators. These drugs are often used on an as-needed basis. They’re used to address asthma symptoms.
  • Non-steroid anti-inflammatory medications. These drugs lessen inflammation in the airways. Although they have few side effects, they do not control the symptoms of allergic asthma as well as inhaled corticosteroids.

Who Should Use a Nebulizer?

Several groups of people can benefit from home nebulizer therapy. For instance, the therapy is particularly effective in delivering asthma medications to infants and small children. It’s also effective for anyone who is unable to use asthma inhalers with spacers.

A nebulizer can be a very effective, even potentially lifesaving, tool for managing allergic asthma. They are, though, only effective when used properly. Used incorrectly, nebulizers may actually contribute to serious medical problems.

Some people make the mistake of using a nebulizer only to deliver quick-acting bronchodilators. These are medicines used on a “rescue” basis to get control over an asthma attack. But doctors generally prescribe the regular use of a nebulizer to deliver inhaled steroids. The purpose is to prevent asthma attacks.

You might be tempted to forgo nebulizer treatment when your child is not exhibiting any childhood allergy symptoms or signs of asthma. But to keep asthma from getting worse, it’s important to follow the doctor’s directions about how and when to use the machine.

Here are guidelines for helping your child use a nebulizer.

Using a Nebulizer: Getting Started

Before you start, be sure that you collect all of the materials you will need. These include:

  • air compressor
  • compressor tubing
  • mask or mouthpiece
  • medication
  • nebulizer cup

It’s a good idea to practice assembling the machine ahead of time. That way, you will be familiar with the different components and how they go together. Your infant or young child will feel much more comfortable about asthma treatment if you seem at ease and confident about what you are doing. This is especially true for babies, who will not understand what you are trying to do and may be scared by the unfamiliar machine.

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