A Pithy History of Nebulizers, Inhalers: part II

Last updated: January 2021

So, nebulizers and inhalers were around for thousands of years. We learned this in part I. But, they weren’t ideal. They were bulky and fragile. They were expensive. And, worse, they were hard to operate. This all changed beginning in the 1930s. This is when modern nebulizers systems were born.

By 1900 nebulizers existed. As noted, they were large, made of glass, bulky, and expensive. They were very fragile. They were operated by squeezing a rubber bulb. So, it took a lot of work to create the mist. Still, it was better than nothing.

The medicine available was epinephrine. In Europe, they called it adrenaline. It was the first rescue medicine. It came in glass bottles. You drew up the medicine with a syringe. You mixed in some normal saline (salt water). You squeezed the bulb and inhaled the mist.

In the 1930s, the first mass-producible electric nebulizer was marketed. This was nice because no rubber bulb was needed. You didn’t have to work hard to create a mist. A problem was that these nebulizers were still bulky and made of glass. So, they were fragile. They were also expensive.

Electric nebulizers were nice. Still, most asthmatics continued to have the older, rubber bulb nebulizers. These were less expensive.

1957 was a huge year for asthmatics. This was the year the first modern inhaler was marketed. It was called the Medi-haler Epi. It contained epinephrine. Another inhaler was called the Medi-Haler Iso. I contained isoproterenol. Both were rescue medicines. Which one you got was up to your doctor.

The advantages to these new inhalers

The advantages of these new inhalers were obvious. In fact, they were highlighted in ads for them. One such ad said:

"Medihaler with your favorite bronchodilator. No rubber bulbs to deteriorate. No breakage of costly glass nebulizers. No spilling of solution in pocket or purse.'

The design was revolutionary. So much so that today’s inhalers have changed very little. They have added a cap. They have added a counter. But, other than that, they look very similar to the original design.

Modern nebulizers have also come a long way. They are made of hard plastic. They are lightweight and even disposable. They are even microwavable, so easy to clean. Air compressors are also electric. They are relatively small. Portable nebulizers even exist today.

The researchers have worked hard

Who would have dreamed of this 100 years ago? So far we have come in such a few short years! It’s like we’ve taken a 1000 year leap through time in just 100 years. This is a testament to how hard researchers are working. This is a testament to how much they’ve accomplished.

So, today we have access to nebulizers and inhalers. They each have their advantages. The most common medicine used is albuterol. It’s works as well as epinephrine and is far safer. Most experts agree that all asthmatics should have rescue medicine nearby at all times. Some have nebulizers. Some have inhalers. And some are like me and have both.


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