A nebulizer is an electric- or battery-powered machine that
turns your child's liquid asthma medicine into a fine mist
that's inhaled into the lungs. Nebulizers are often used with
young children because they require little effort on the
child's part. But the child does need to stay in one place and
cooperate. And if you have a young child, you know how challenging
that can be.
Most nebulizers come equipped with a face mask (although
they're also available with a mouthpiece). A child wears the
mask and breathes normally for 5 to 10 minutes until the medicine
is gone. If the child doesn't stay still and cooperate, he or
she may not get a proper dose of the medicine. For instance, if the
mask is held a half inch (1.27 centimeters) away from the face,
half of the medicine won't reach the lungs. Increase that
distance to an inch (2.54 centimeters) and 80% of the medicine is
It might seem as though a crying child takes deeper breaths,
which can lead a parent to think that the child will inhale the
medication more deeply when crying. In fact, the opposite is true.
Crying is a long exhalation followed by a very rapid inhalation for
the child to catch his or her breath. Almost none of the medication
will make it to the lungs if given while the child is crying.
If your child is an infant, you may be able to use the nebulizer
while your child is sleeping, or you may find your child is
cooperative if you use the nebulizer while your child is being
held. But what about older babies and toddlers? They might be
frightened by the face mask and are sure to resist sitting
Here are some suggestions for making nebulizer use easier and
- Make it part of your daily routine. Use the nebulizer at the
same time (or times) each day, so your child knows what to
- If your child is afraid of the mask, you can talk about how
it's a "pilot mask" or a "space mask."
You might even buy a video about pilots or astronauts and use
some of the lingo like "start your engines" before you
turn the nebulizer on. You can also buy masks shaped like dragons
and other animals.
- Allow your child to decorate the nebulizer machine with
- Try having your child sit in a highchair. If that doesn't
work, your little one might prefer sitting in your lap.
- Make the time your child has to sit still as fun as possible.
Read stories, sing songs, or pull out some special toys only
available during nebulizer time.
- Watch a short DVD or video together.
- If your child is old enough, encourage him or her to help you
put the mask on, hold the tubing, and turn the machine on.
- Praise your child for a job well done!
Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: May 2007
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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