person using a nebulizer

What You Need to Know About Updraft Nebulizer Treatment for Asthma

Have you heard of updraft treatment for asthma? Are you wondering what it is or if it could help you in managing your asthma? If so, keep reading.

What is an updraft nebulizer?

If you're thinking this is some new and exciting approach to treating asthma, I hate to disappoint you. "Updraft" is simply another name for the most common type of nebulizer used to administer asthma medication. It refers to how the machine works. This type of nebulizer is also known by other names:1

  • Jet nebulizer
  • Small-volume nebulizer
  • Breathing machine

Some nebulizer manufacturers actually label some of their nebulizers as "updraft" models. But that doesn't mean they work any differently than other small-volume, jet nebulizer. This type of nebulizer is an alternate way of taking inhaled medication for asthma, in contrast to using a handheld metered-dose inhaler. Two types of medicines can be given in nebulizers for asthma:

  • Bronchodilators (for quick relief of asthma symptoms)
  • Steroids (less common, but used for asthma control)

Nebulizers consist of a small cup attached to a mouthpiece or mask that converts liquid medicine to a fine mist. This mist can be easily breathed deep into the lungs. Oxygen tubing is attached to the opposite end of the cup and connects to an air compressor. This compressor pushes a pressurized flow of room air through the cup, which is how the liquid becomes a vapor mist. This mist is inhaled for about 5 to 10 minutes in most cases. 2

Who needs to use an updraft nebulizer for asthma?

Anyone who is on asthma medication could use a nebulizer. It is considered equally effective for delivering asthma medicines into the lungs as a metered-dose inhaler. 2In reality, though, updraft nebulizers are used most often for:

  • Adults who are struggling with mastering the technique of using an inhaler
  • Very young children
  • Anyone having a severe asthma attack

Most often, nebulizers are used to give a combination of saline (salt water) and a medicine that relaxes the lungs and reduces spasms in the airways. 3

Tips for using an updraft nebulizer

You may never even need to use an updraft nebulizer. I never have, but I only have mild asthma and have never had a super severe asthma attack that couldn't be relieved within a few minutes by my quick-relief inhaler. But in case you (or your child) do need one at some point, here are a few tips.

1. Keep your equipment well-organized and ready to go quickly in case of emergency.

This means keeping it in a convenient location near a power source, with the medication ampules (small containers of the medicine) close at hand. The CDC recommends washing the canister with hot sudsy water and letting it air dry after every use.5 At least every day or two, wash the cup with warm water and dishwashing liquid. Rinse it with warm water that has been boiled to be sterile. Some nebulizer companies also recommend a soak in alcohol; follow the directions that come with your machine. Replace the cup, tubing and any filters any time they cannot be cleaned or crack or change color.

If the nebulizer is for your child, be prepared for asthma episodes when you leave home. My daughter has to haul hers to daycare every day with her son, just in case he needs extra breathing treatment during his time there.

2. Prepare your child for the treatment ahead of time.

Some kids might be frightened by the mask or feel more short of breath when it's placed over their mouth or nose. 4 Animal-shaped masks can be purchased that might make the treatment more fun. Also practicing ahead of time when they're not already feeling anxious can help. Let them hold the mask, look at it and try it on. Sitting your child in your lap during the treatment can also help him or her feel more comfortable.

3. Give only the amount of medication that has been prescribed.

This is made easier by the fact that the medication is usually packaged in dose-size containers. But be sure the doctor has updated your Asthma Action Plan to reflect the proper dose of medication for the nebulizer, and be sure everyone concerned gets a copy of this updated plan. Never double up doses on your own. If your symptoms (or your child's) are not relieved with the prescribed treatment, it's time to call the doctor or seek emergency care.

What to do if you think this treatment option may be right for you?

If you think you or your child might benefit from an updraft nebulizer, then be sure to talk with your health care team about it. Together, you can decide if a small-volume type nebulizer is the right choice for you or your child.


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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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