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Sometimes children’s allergy symptoms don’t stop with a stuffy nose and watery eyes. If your child has allergic asthma, the most common form of asthma, exposure to allergens like pollen and mold can cause breathing passages to become swollen and inflamed. Childhood allergies that trigger asthma can lead to wheezing, shortness of breath, and difficulty breathing.

When that happens, your child’s doctor may prescribe the use of a breathing machine called a nebulizer.

What Is a Nebulizer?

A nebulizer is a machine that’s used to deliver asthma medication to the lungs. It does this by converting liquid medication into a mist. The mist can then be inhaled.

What Medications are Delivered With a Nebulizer?

There are several types of allergic asthma medicines that can be delivered by a nebulizer.

Consult your doctor for more information

Who Should Use a Nebulizer?

Several groups of people can benefit from home nebulizer therapy. For instance, the therapy is particularly effective in delivering asthma medications to infants and small children. It’s also effective for anyone who is unable to use asthma inhalers with spacers.

A nebulizer can be a very effective, even potentially lifesaving, tool for managing allergic asthma. They are, though, only effective when used properly. Used incorrectly, nebulizers may actually contribute to serious medical problems.

Some people make the mistake of using a nebulizer only to deliver quick-acting bronchodilators. These are medicines used on a “rescue” basis to get control over an asthma attack. But doctors generally prescribe the regular use of a nebulizer to deliver inhaled steroids. The purpose is to prevent asthma attacks.

You might be tempted to forgo nebulizer treatment when your child is not exhibiting any childhood allergy symptoms or signs of asthma. But to keep asthma from getting worse, it’s important to follow the doctor’s directions about how and when to use the machine.

Using a Nebulizer: Getting Started

Before you start, be sure that you collect all of the materials you will need. These include:

  • air compressor
  • compressor tubing
  • mask or mouthpiece
  • medication
  • nebulizer cup

It’s a good idea to practice assembling the machine ahead of time. That way, you will be familiar with the different components and how they go together. Your infant or young child will feel much more comfortable about asthma treatment if you seem at ease and confident about what you are doing. This is especially true for babies, who will not understand what you are trying to do and may be scared by the unfamiliar machine.

After you’ve gathered your materials, put the air compressor unit on a steady surface and plug it in. Next, you and your child should both wash your hands thoroughly before starting to use the nebulizer.

Here are the steps you’ll need to help your child begin using the nebulizer:

  • Measure the asthma medications the way your doctor or pharmacists instructed.
  • Place them in the nebulizer cup.
  • Attach the cup to the mask mouthpiece.
  • Now, use the tubing to connect the air compressor and the nebulizer cup.
  • Before you put the mask on your child, switch the compressor on. Check to make sure it is functioning properly. If you see a mist coming through the tube to the mouthpiece, the machine is working.
  • Have your child sit in a chair or on your lap, wherever he or she will be most comfortable.
  • Gently place the mask over his or her face, or if you are using a mouthpiece, insert it between your child’s teeth. Make sure your child’s lips are closed around the mouthpiece. This will create a seal.

Now your child is getting the allergic asthma treatment he or she needs.

Using a Nebulizer With a Mask

If your child is not old enough to use a mouthpiece correctly, you will need to use a mask with the nebulizer. The mask ensures the asthma medication is delivered properly. You may not like the idea of putting a mask over your baby’s nose and mouth, but remind yourself how important it is to use a nebulizer correctly. It’s the only way to make sure the asthma medicine your child needs goes directly to the lungs.

Some babies are upset or scared by the nebulizer. Because of this, some parents are tempted to point the mist at the baby’s face while the baby sleeps. What they want to do is deliver the asthma treatment in way that would be undetected. But this method, called “blow-by treatment,” is highly ineffective. It will not deliver the asthma medication to your baby’s lungs.

For children of all ages, a close-fitting mask will make the difference between a nebulizer treatment that works and one that does not. If the mask is just a mere half-inch away from the nose and mouth, 50% of the medicine will not make its way to the lungs. If the mask is an inch away from the face, 80% of the medicine won’t reach the lungs.

What to Do During a Nebulizer Treatment

A nebulizer treatment can take between 15 and 20 minutes. It will be easier for your child to sit still for the treatment if your child has something else to focus on. For instance, you might try reading to your child while the asthma treatment is going on.

While the nebulizer is delivering the medication, encourage your child to breathe slowly and deeply. Urge your child to try to hold each breath in for a couple of seconds before exhaling. If this makes your child nervous, explain that the asthma medication will work better if it sits in the lungs before it’s blown out. To help, you can hold your breath with your child or count out loud to provide support.

Have your child watch with you to make sure the mist disappears with each breath. This is a sure sign that the medication is getting where it’s supposed to be.

Continue using the nebulizer until all the asthma medication has been delivered. When it has been, the machine will sputter.

An older child might feel confident about doing the nebulizer treatment on his or her own. But it’s important for you to stay with your child throughout the entire treatment.

Sometimes, children may experience unpleasant side effects during this asthma treatment. These may be caused by hyperventilation or shallow breathing. This could happen especially if your child is nervous. Or the side effects could be caused by the asthma medication.

If your child feels dizzy, vomits, or has a coughing fit while the nebulizer is being used, take a five-minute break. Let your child relax and breathe normally. Then, resume treatment until all the asthma medication has been delivered.

Using a Nebulizer: Tips to Help Your Child Relax

It’s very important for your child’s emotional and physical health to make their allergic asthma treatment as pleasant as possible. For instance, you don’t want your child to be scared by the machine every day or start to dread the process. Also, when children cry, they breathe very shallowly. This prevents the asthma medication from reaching their lungs.

The following tips may help your child relax during nebulizer treatment:

  • Use the nebulizer at the same time and in the same place every day. Then it will become a regular part of your child’s routine.
  • Make a game out of using the nebulizer. You can help your child pretend to be an astronaut, for instance. You can also purchase special nebulizer masks for children that come in fun shapes and colors.
  • Make the nebulizer machine more child-friendly by encouraging your child to decorate it.
  • Try watching a movie during their asthma treatment.
  • If your child is older, he or she may like taking some of the responsibility for the nebulizer treatment. Allow your child to help you put the mask on and turn the machine on and off.
  • Be sure to give your child a lot of positive reinforcement for cooperating during nebulizer treatment.

What to Do After Nebulizer Treatment

Once all of the asthma medication has been delivered, it’s important to disassemble and clean the nebulizer properly before storing. Here are the steps you need to follow:

  • Open the nebulizer cup and clean it thoroughly with dish detergent and water, but do not wash or rinse the air compressor tubing.
  • Air dry the pieces in a clean location.
  • After they’re dry, store the nebulizer cup and tubing in a plastic bag.
  • Once a week, cleanse the nebulizer cup in a mixture of water and vinegar after you wash it. Check with your child’s doctor for guidance on proper cleansing.
  • Also, check the filter on the nebulizer every week and replace it as soon as it becomes discolored.