The chances are high that if you are a sufferer of asthma or are the parent of an asthmatic child, you and/or your childs health care provider has recommended the use of a nebulizer over that of an inhaler, except in what is called “rescue” situations.
Albuterol, metaproterenol, and terbutaline are three drugs commonly used to treat asthma as well as other respiratory problems such as bronchial obstruction. In emergency room and other hospital settings, these drugs are normally diluted with saline solution and dispensed by a nebulizer.
Often, these drugs are recommended to be used via metered-dose inhalers rather than by nebulizers when administered as maintenance therapy for outpatient therapy. It is not widely accept by healthcare professionals to use inhalers as a method of treatment in hospitals due to a belief among doctors that nebulizers provide a more effective way of delivering the medication used.
Two Studies, 35 Patient Subjects
However, among others, two studies comparing inhaler and nebulizer treatments in hospital settings show results that call for a different look at the two treatment methods. Researchers worked with patients at Cook County Hospital in Chicago, an acute-care hospital of 800 beds and at Floridas Shands Teaching Hospital, a 568-bed hospital that has an affiliation with the University of Florida College of Medicine, located in Gainesville.
Fifteen patients at Cook County Hospital were studied and another 20 at Shands Hospital, ranging in age from 10 to 45 years old. Each asthma suffered involved in the research was used to compare the efficacy of the two treatments using albuterol, as mentioned above, a common medication used in the treatment of asthma patients.
Delivery of the albuterol was by a metered-dose inhaler with a tube or an attached holding chamber or by a nebulizer. According to the studies, improvement of respiratory function was measured and found to be the same with both methods of medication delivery.
What the Studies Suggest
The findings of these studies are twofold: They suggest that hospitals, clinics, emergency rooms and other healthcare facilities could save a great amount of time and money in using the much faster and easier to use metered dose inhaler than by using the nebulizer, which usually takes up to 10 minutes to dispense medication after the equipment has been procured and set up. Inhalers, on the other hand, take only a few minutes to deliver the prescribed amount of medication.
These findings also indicate a more convenient and timesaving way for asthmatic patients to help themselves when at home, as well. Instead of the need to try and gather and set up nebulizer equipment while experiencing the effects of an asthma attack (plus the additional inconvenience of cleaning and maintaining the nebulizer tubing and attachments), the studies suggest it may do asthmatics just as much good to be able to merely treat themselves by the much more simpler method provided by a small inhaler.
More Research Necessary
Limited methodology precluded the researchers ability to report how many and length of treatments were needed to eradicate symptoms or to report on how long the therapy should continue before patients could be allowed to return home or to be admitted to the hospital.
These important considerations should be addressed before judging whether or not one method of treatment should be chosen over another in subsequent studies on inhaler versus nebulizer treatments in hospital settings.