Updated 21 January 2019

Asthma and nebulisation

Are you or your child using a nebuliser to help control your asthma? Then read on.

A nebuliser is a machine that converts certain medicines from liquid form into a mist that you can inhale into your lungs. Nebulisation can be used in moderate and severe asthma attacks.

The purpose of a nebuliser is similar to that of an asthma inhaler. They’re often used in young children who struggle with their technique or when someone is too ill to use their hand-held device.

Note, however, that nebulisers are about as effective as metered-dose inhalers with spacers. A spacer with 10 puffs of the reliever may be just as effective as nebulisation.

To use a nebuliser, however, breathe in slowly and deeply over 3-5 seconds, holding your breath for 10 seconds at the end of an inhalation.

Be careful of overuse and over-dependence on nebulisation. Instead, carry a spacer device with you to use in an emergency (see tips for using your spacer device).

If you don’t have a spacer on you, you can make a hole in a polystyrene cup for your inhaler pump to fit in. Place the rim of the polystyrene cup over your mouth and spray 4-10 puffs of your reliever pump into the polystyrene cup every 20 minutes for an hour. Inhale deeply through your mouth from the polystyrene cup.

Reviewed by independent healthcare consultant Prof Praneet Valodia and pulmonologist Prof Elvis Irusen, Head of the Division of Pulmonology at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University. October 2018.


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Professor Keertan Dheda has received of several prestigious awards including the 2014 Oppenheimer Award, and has published over 160 peer-reviewed papers and holds 3 patents related to new TB diagnostic or infection control technologies. He serves on the editorial board of the journals PLoS One, the International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Medicine, Lancet Respiratory Diseases and Nature Scientific Reports, amongst others.Read his full biography at the University of Cape Town Lung Institute

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