Asthma Lexicon: Breathing Treatment Terminology

Last updated: October 2018

Many people with asthma have nebulizers. They work great for asthma. So, what are they?

Here are some basic terms to know

Breathing treatment. It’s when you inhale medicine using a nebulizer. “I recommend sitting up in a chair to take your breathing treatments.”

Treatment. A shorter way of saying breathing treatment.  “It’s recommended that you breathe normally during your treatment.”

Solution. A mixture of water. It may contain just water. It may also contain medicine. These used to come in small bottles. Today, they usually come in small plastic ampules.

Ampules (Amps). Small plastic containers for storing solutions. Most respiratory solutions are premixed with normal saline. They come with one dose of the medicine. "Albuterol amps contain 0.5cc Albuterol and 0.3cc sodium chloride."

Normal saline. It’s water with sodium chloride (salt) added to it. It’s 0.9% sodium chloride. This matches the salt content in your body. It’s premixed in ampules with a prescribed amount of medicine. This allows for the treatment to last long enough to be effective.

Nebulizer. It’s a small, hand-held device that allows you to inhale a mist. A standard nebulizer has a mouthpiece and a nebulizer cup. “A nebulizer can be held in your hand and is easy to use.”

Nebulizer cup. It’s a cup you put solutions into. A small opening in the bottom of the cup allows a stream of air to enter the cup. This stream is used to create a mist for inhaling. The principle involved here is the Bernoulli Principle. “You put the medicine in the nebulizer cup.”

Air compressor. A small machine that creates a flow of air. Most are about the size of a tissue box and are operated by electricity. Others are smaller and are operated by batteries. Many people incorrectly refer to them as nebulizers.

Tubing. It’s oxygen tubing that connects from the air compressor to the nebulizer. It directs the flow of air to enter the nebulizer cup. This flow of air is what turns the solution into a mist.

Mist. It’s not smoke. It’s not steam. It’s what you feel when walking over a waterfall. When created by a nebulizer, it allows you to inhale a solution. Unlike steam or smoke, no chemical changes to the solutions are made. This allows for volatile and nonvolatile medicines to be inhaled. It also allows you to inhale two or more medicines during the same treatment.

Mouthpiece. It’s the part of a nebulizer you put into your mouth. Clip it between your teeth. Make a tight seal with your lips. It directs the mist into your airway when you inhale.

Mask. It’s attached to the top of the nebulizer. It’s used instead of the mouthpiece. It fits snug over your mouth and nose.

Nebulizer system. The combination of the nebulizer, tubing, air compressor and mouthpiece or mask.

Normal Breathing. The recommendation is for you to breathe normally. Your goal is to create a smooth, laminar flow so the mist travels to your lower airways where it’s needed. Some experts recommend taking an occasional deep breath.

Conclusion.  So, these are some basic terms regarding nebulizer breathing treatments. They’re nice options for inhaling the respiratory medicine. If you have further questions, check out my post, “What Are Nebulizer Systems?"

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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