With increasing respiratory problems, the word nebulizer (nebuliser) has become a household name. In urban areas, it is uncommon to find a family where at least one member does not suffer from respiratory problems. Nebulizer is a machine commonly used to assist people with breathing problems. Nebulizer machine turns liquid medicine into a mist. The patient inhales the mist, receiving fast relief. You would have seen this equipment in most hospitals. Common conditions requiring use of nebulizers include asthma, COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), Cystic Fibrosis, etc. The number of people with respiratory problems have increased in the last few years.
Nebulizers assume significance because they are an effective way of administering medicines to people with breathing problems. Since breathing is an involuntary activity, the medicine can be administered to people even when they are unconscious.
Types of Nebulizers
There are two types of nebulizers – mechanical and electrical. Mechanical nebulizers, as the name implies, use mechanical power to operate. The most common kind of mechanical nebulizer is a handheld device called inhalers (Metered Dose Inhalers). The patient uses his hands to operate the inhalers. The inhalers administer a fixed amount of medicine when the patient operates the inhaler. Another kind of mechanical nebulizers called Human Powered Nebulizers (HPN). Such nebulizers find its use in remote areas where electricity is unavailable. It derives its name from the fact that another human has to generate energy required to operate the nebulizer.
Electric nebulizers are common and are available under various commercial names. Compressor Piston type nebulziers and ultrasonic nebulizers are common nebulizers available today. There are some situations where use of inhalers are not effective. Electric nebulizers are effective for such situations. Use of inhaler requires patient to take a deep breath and then inhale the medicine. However, it may not be possible for people with acute symptoms and breathing problems.
Compressor Piston Nebulizers
Compressor Piston Nebulizers can be easily identified by the sound it produces. It is not a silent machine and you can hear its working from the nearby rooms. This type of nebulizer pumps a steady stream of compressed air into a mixer unit, where oxygen and liquid medicine mixes together and produces mist. The mist thus produced, is inhaled by the patient using mouthpiece, mask, etc. The inhaler mask helps you breathe the mist effectively. This mask makes things easy to administer medicines to kids and infants.
The compressor sucks air from the atmosphere, compresses the air to make it cold and then pumps the air through a tube. The tube contains a medicines and special mechanism that facilitates mixture of oxygen and medicines.The mixing process atomizes the liquid medicine and turns it into mist. The mixture of air and medicine in small particle form is known as aerosol.
Jet nebulizer is another name for compressor based neblizers. This is because, the nebulizer employs a jet stream of compressed air to atomize the liquid medicines. The compressor piston based nebulizer utilizes moving parts like compressor for its operation. So, the energy needed to operate the machine is much higher and it produces more sound. The chances of malfunction are also higher. The next type of electric nebulizer machines, ultrasonic nebulizers, solve such issues.
Ultrasonic nebulizers are silent compared to jet nebulizers. The ultrasonic nebulizers do not have any moving parts inside them. So, it is more energy efficient and portable. Before we move on, let us understand how it works.
Ultrasonic nebulizers have a piezoelectric ceramic crystal that vibrates at very high frequencies. The vibration of the crystal at high frequencies generate enough force to atomize the liquid medicine to mist. Mist so produced, being lighter, floats and comes out through the output vent. A connected mouthpiece can help the patient inhale aerosol comfortably. The nebulizer does not have any mechanism to push the mist towards the user, like in the case of a compressor nebulizer.
The ultrasonic nebulizers are very lightweight and are portable. It can operate on batteries. The advantage is that the patient can keep the unit in his hand and inhale the mist according to his comfort. However, this is a disadvantage in certain scenarios which involve bedridden patients, infants, etc. They will not be able to keep the nebulizer in their hand in a steady state and inhale the mist. This is one reason why you will not find ultrasonic nebulizer in hospital environments. A compressor nebulizer can be used in all scenarios where an ultrasonic nebulizer is used. However, the reverse is not true.
Choosing the best nebulizer for home use
There are several factors you need to keep in mind when buying a nebulizer for home use. In the following sections, I will take a look at the most important aspects you must keep in mind while choosing one.
This is very important. Although all nebulizers work the same way, the comfort of the patient in question comes first. Your grandmother can certainly use a nebulizer made for kids. It will work efficiently and provide the relief. However, you need to ask whether she is comfortable using it. Old people, at times, can become stubborn on their preferences. An ultrasonic nebulizer could be the best choice for an adult. It can be useful while traveling as well. However, it would be difficult to use the same machine for a bedridden patient or an infant.
If you are surprised by seeing this at the second spot, think about it. It is a critical machine. Think of a situation where someone is finding it hard to breathe and the nebulizer machine is not working. What are the alternatives? None. Unless that person has another machine handy, things are going to be bad. I’m not saying that having a lengthy warranty period guarantees working of machine every time. When a company is offering a longer period of warranty, it means that the company is confident in the machine and the probability of failure is low. In any case, I would always recommend having a backup nebulizer, if you can afford it. If you regularly use an inhaler, then it is not necessary to have a backup.
If you are looking at a nebulizer strictly for home use, then it is recommended to get a compressor piston nebulizer. However, if you are looking at a nebulizer, that you can carry in your trips, then an ultrasonic nebulizer will be the right choice. Having said that, you might want to consider the patient’s preference as well.
Some nebulizers do not come with a child mask and you may end up buying one from the local market. Similarly, a mask for child does not come with adult mask. You should consider these aspects while choosing one. Some nebulizers come without additional air filters and a storage bag. Do check the package contents before buying a nebulizer.
This is another aspect you should watch out for. In case you use the nebulizer quite frequently, then you may have to replace the air filter every 60 days. However, if you happen to live in a much more polluted area, then you may have to replace the filter early.
Nebulizer machines are critical equipment for anyone who needs breathing assistance. You should choose the machine based on the actual requirement and taking into consideration the patient preference. Nebulizers are cheaper alternatives to handheld inhalers, for patients who use it frequently. And, buy a backup nebulizer if you can afford it and the breathing problem of the patient is acute. You shouldn’t be looking for alternatives when the patient needs breathing assistance. Finally, take a look at the best nebulizers available in India.