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portable nebulizer in a purse

Pros and Cons of Portable Nebulizers for Asthma

We have come a very long way from early nebulizers. The very first nebulizer was invented in 1864 in Germany and it was steam-driven and turned the liquid medication into a vapor that was inhaled.

The first electrical nebulizer was invented in 1930. At that time the most common medication that was used for asthma was a form of epinephrine which helped reverse bronchoconstriction and eased breathing. This nebulizer turned the epinephrine into vapor via a small electrical compressor. These nebulizers were very expensive for the time, so people continued to use smaller handheld atomizers that you had to squeeze similar to old-fashioned perfume bottles for many years.

A lot has changed about nebulizers

I guess you could say those atomizers were the very first portable nebulizers on the market. What were once considered cutting edge are now ancient, as to be expected. I remember my first home nebulizer in the 1980s. It was huge and bulky, not to mention LOUD, and took what seemed like forever to nebulize albuterol, which had to be measured from a dropper and mixed with saline from an aerosol bottle.

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In more recent years, the small portable nebulizers have gained popularity and therefore more manufacturers have started making them. But there are some pros and cons when it comes to present-day portable nebulizers. Here are some things to consider.

Pros of portable nebulizers for asthma


The biggest pro of a portable nebulizer is that it is very convenient. They are lightweight and can easily fit in a purse. Some are so small they can fit in your pocket! This makes travel extremely easy due to its size.

Cost of medication

The liquid medication for nebulizers (such as albuterol, ipratropium bromide, levalbuterol, and budesonide) is overall significantly cheaper than the exact same medication in inhaler form.

It's inconspicuous

My favorite feature of a portable nebulizer is that it is very quiet. Some are even completely silent! These small nebs often times run on batteries making them even more convenient. Most of the time they have an adaptor that can be purchased so you can plug them into the wall or into your car.

Cons of portable nebulizers for asthma

Insurance coverage

Portable handheld nebulizers are not usually covered by insurance. They can be quite expensive to pay for out of pocket. If you have either an FSA or HSA account you can use that to pay for it. That is how I purchased mine a few years ago.


Some take longer to nebulize medications than a larger traditional unit. This is due to the mechanism/motor which isn’t as powerful as the regular tabletop nebulizers.

Medicine limitations

Most of them can also only nebulize albuterol. This means no inhaled steroids, as it can gunk up the mesh that vibrates to make the mist you inhale.

Will a portable nebulizer make a difference for you?

Portable nebulizers have their pros and cons. Each person will have to weigh both the good and bad to see if it is worth it to have one in their asthma toolbox.

For me, having a portable nebulizer that is completely silent has been an absolute game-changer. There have been times when I have not been at home and my asthma has flared very badly, so much that I didn’t have enough strength to use my rescue inhaler. I like having my little “baby neb” (as I like to call it) in my bag for whenever I need it. It brings me a lot of comfort. I still have a regular tabletop nebulizer for home use, which is considerably smaller than my childhood one.

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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