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What is Aerosol Therapy?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Jan 29, 2024
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Aerosol therapy is a type of medical treatment that is employed to address different forms of breathing conditions. It might be used to treat chronic asthma, acute asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) or other illnesses that impact airway functioning. Therapies that qualify as aerosol therapy are multiple and include using powder or metered dose inhalers, or nebulizers. Each of these delivers small amounts of medicine into the lungs to address breathing problems, and some are fast acting, while others have a cumulative effect of reducing or keeping down inflammation. Appropriateness of type of therapy tends to be based on illness and other highly individualized factors.

Many people are familiar with aerosol therapy that comes in the form of metered dose or powder inhalers. Metered dose inhalers deliver medicines, such as albuterol, which can help arrest an asthma attack in progress. Other forms of these inhalers contain corticosteroids that will not stop an asthma attack, but can, through daily use, reduce number of severe attacks. People may have more than one of these inhalers, such as a fast acting and a steroid inhaler that they use regularly.

Any type of inhaler can have advantages and be convenient for use. Yet a big disadvantage of this aerosol therapy can be the learning curve it takes to use an inhaler properly. For this reason, kids under seven often use a device called a spacer that allows for more of the medicine to be inhaled. Moreover, except for the very precocious child, those under the age of four may have exceptional difficulty using any type of powder or metered dose inhaler properly.

The solution to this issue and for others who have trouble using metered dose inhalers is to get aerosol therapy in the form of a nebulizer. This is a machine that breaks liquid medicine into fine droplets, which can then be inhaled into the lungs. Nebulizers are pricey, though many insurance companies will now pay for them. They require extra care and cleaning of all tubing and parts to avoid transferring any form of infection to the lungs.

The disadvantages of nebulizers tend to be outweighed by the advantages of using one for aerosol therapy. The breathing apparatus is held in the mouth and a person simply breathes normally in and out of the mouth, bringing in the medication as it is aerosolized. In very young children who cannot perform this function, a mask with a decent seal can be used instead. Nebulizers are often thought a more effective means of delivering certain medications than are inhalers, and are especially useful if several drugs need to be delivered at once.

In all instances, delivering particles of medicine to the lungs through aerosol therapy continues to improve. Nebulizers, for instance, used to be huge devices and are now easily portable. Direct treatment of the lungs through inhaled medicine has a wide variety of applications and treats numerous serious pulmonary conditions.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
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Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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