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Inhaled Relief: How COPD Devices Work

COPD Treatment: Which Is Better for Me?

Which approach is better: a nebulizer or an inhaler? It depends on what your doctor recommends, your personal preference, and what insurance will cover. The key is making sure you feel comfortable using either correctly.

Experts say that most people with COPD use inhalers. One big advantage is that they're portable. While you have to use a nebulizer at home (or in a medical facility) you can carry an inhaler in your pocket. Inhalers also deliver medication more quickly. After a few puffs, perhaps separated by a minute or two, you're done.

However, using inhalers correctly can take some practice. Numerous studies have found that fewer than half of people with MDIs for asthma or COPD actually use them properly.

For people who have trouble with inhalers, nebulizers can be the best choice. They also can be temporarily helpful for COPD flare-ups. Some people just prefer nebulizers and feel that they're more effective. Your doctor will have advice about which approach makes sense in your case. 

Because nebulizers are expensive and require maintenance, insurance companies might be less likely to cover them for long-term use.

5 Tips for Using Inhaled COPD Medicine

  1. Know how to use it. If you're not using inhaled medicine correctly, it won't help you. When you first get the prescription, go over the instructions with a health care provider or pharmacist -- or if you have a nebulizer, with a representative from the medical supply company. After that, check in occasionally to make sure that you're still using it properly.
  2. Know when to use it. If you are prescribed a nebulizer or inhaler, make sure you understand when to use it. Is it only for times when you have a COPD flare-up? Or do you need it every day?
  3. Know how much you need. Always follow the prescription exactly -- never take more or less than your doctor recommends. If you're having a COPD flare-up and your normal dosage hasn't helped, don't keep taking more. Instead, get medical help right away.
  4. Know what the drug does. You might need more than one kind of inhaled medication. The most common treatment for COPD is a bronchodilator, which relaxes the muscles around the airways, allowing them to open up. There are many types of bronchodilators, such as anticholinergics and beta2-agonists. Some people with COPD need treatment with inhaled corticosteroids, which can reduce swelling in the air passages. Some of these medications are short-acting, others are long-acting, and some kick in quickly while others take time to work. If you're taking multiple prescriptions, be careful not to confuse them.
  5. Keep track of your medication. Since controlling COPD is so important, make sure you always know how much medicine you have left. Get refills on time. You never want to run out unexpectedly.



WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Kimball Johnson, MD on August 04, 2012

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