If you have a condition that makes it difficult to breathe, you also know the struggle of finding real, rapid relief. Rescue inhalers can help relieve severe and sudden symptoms, but they require deep and measured breathing that many children and adults can’t easily master – especially when you’re in the grips of an asthma attack.

That’s why many patients need a nebulizer. These helpful breathing tools provide an alternative to inhalers that is equally effective but far more easy to use. If breathing is a burden, here’s what you need to know to ask your doctor about nebulizer treatments.

What is a nebulizer?

A nebulizer is a piece of medical equipment that delivers aerosolized medication directly to the lungs. It works by turning liquid medication into a fine mist that is inhaled through a mask or breathing tube.

Nebulizer systems come in a variety of types and sizes. Home systems may take up an entire tabletop, while portable systems can easily fit in your purse. Some run on batteries, while others need to be plugged into an electric outlet. Every nebulizer system includes an air compressor, a medication cup, flexible tubing, and a mask or mouthpiece.

How does a nebulizer work?

There are three main nebulizer systems, each with its own mechanism of action:

  • Ultrasonic nebulizers use high-frequency vibrations to turn liquid medication into aerosol.
  • Jet nebulizers use pressurized gas to turn liquid medication into aerosol or mist.
  • Mesh nebulizers pass liquid medication through a mesh or aperture plate, creating small aerosol particles.

Nebulizers deliver a wide range of respiratory medications that can relieve sudden symptoms or help manage your daily condition. Common medications include corticosteroids to fight inflammation (budesonide, fluticasone) and bronchodilators to open the airways (albuterol). You can also take combination treatments that provide more than one medication.

Who needs a nebulizer?

Doctors commonly prescribe nebulizers to patients suffering from chronic lung conditions, including:

  • Asthma
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
  • Cystic Fibrosis
  • Respiratory Infections

Unlike metered-dose inhalers (MDIs), nebulizers do not require a special breathing technique to be effective. This makes them a common choice for treating small children and those who struggle to use inhalers.

Where to buy a nebulizer

You can buy nebulizers over-the-counter at many pharmacies and retail stores for an average cost of $50 to $100. However, a prescription is required to purchase most forms of respiratory medication.

When prescribed by a doctor, nebulizers are often provided in-office and may be covered by your health insurance plan. You can also use an online pharmacy like America’s Best Care Plus, which delivers nebulizer systems, accessories, and medications right to your door for a better breathing experience.