Asthma Inhaler vs. Nebulizer: What’s the Difference?

Inhalation is a common technique for administrating respiratory diseases like asthma. Nebulizers and inhalers are the devices used to take the medicines that help in relieve or prevent asthma.


Inhalers are small, handy devices available in metal and plastic types. It includes a pressurized tin canister in which the medicine is contained and releases fixed measured doses when the canister is pressed.

This is why they are also referred to as ‘metered dose inhalers’. Inhalers may be used with a ‘spacer’ – a plastic add-on device, which is kept between the canister and the user’s mouth to take the inhalation of medicine. DPI (dry powder inhaler) is other type of inhaler using a measured dose of powdered medicine, hence manual loading is needed.


It is a compressor that contains compressed oxygen or air to deliver through a tube to the mouthpiece. Compressed oxygen or air runs with high velocity across the tube into the liquid medicine available in a small cup in the mouthpiece and converts it into mist for inhalation.

Nebulizers work in battery or with electronic power. Jet nebulizers are the most commonly used models as they are easy to use but makes loud vibratory noise when switched on.

What is the basic difference between an inhaler and nebulizer?

Inhalers release the medicine in the form of aerosols and the patient inhales it through the mouth. He/she needs to manage his inhalation with the release of the medicine.

Spacer in the device catches the aerosols and takes into the mouth through slow, deep breaths for 4-6 times. After this, patients need to hold their breath for 10 seconds to let the aerosols to resolve in the bronchial walls.

On the other hand Nebulizers change the liquid medicine into mist through pressurized oxygen and the patient inhales it through a mask, which covers the nose with a connection to the nebulizer.

The medicine solution is poured to the cup affixed to the mask and when the device is switched on, the solution slowly gets converted into mist for inhalation for around 10-20 minutes.

Pros and cons

Inhalers are quite affordable, easy to use and carry everywhere. Affordable cost makes it highly recommended for daily use for respiratory disorders. One drawback is that inhalers need co-ordination of breath to let the medicine reach the lungs. If done improperly, it will result in poor breathing relief. This issue has been greatly addressed by the space devices.

Nebulizers are used in hospitals when medicines are need to be given to patients with a tracheostomy collar, those with acute breathing difficulty, intubated persons, persons who are in ambulances, etc. Nebulizers are bulky anyway, and are not portable and expensive too. It is found that side effects like tremors and anxiety due to asthma medicines may occur more if given through a nebulizer.

To conclude, both inhalers and nebulizers are equally effective in administrating asthma medicines. The major difference is that inhalers are portable and found more effective if used with a space. To the contrary, nebulizers are not portable and expensive due to the expensive liquid medicines, hence they are mostly used in hospitals.

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