Skip to main content

Airway, Breathing, and Lung Conditions

Inhaler or Nebulizer: Which One Should My Child Use?


Lea este articulo en Español

Some kids who need asthma medicine start out using a nebulizer. Others are given an inhaler with a spacer and face mask. Some older kids use only an inhaler, with no spacer attached. So which is the best way to deliver asthma medicine to the lungs?

Studies show that the device used really doesn't matter, as long as it's used properly. All methods work just as well when the correct technique is used.

What Happens During an Asthma Flare-Up?

Of course, there are pros and cons to each type of device. Inhalers are smaller and require no power source. And because they deliver the medicine much more quickly than a nebulizer, they may be preferred by some parents.

The age of the child also makes a difference in how an inhaler is used. Metered dose inhalers (MDI) are the most widely used, but they require coordination. The child must be able to activate the device and breathe in at the same time. This can be a bit tough and can generally only be mastered by older kids. That's why many doctors recommend attaching the metered dose inhaler to a spacer.

Almost anyone (from infants to the elderly) can use a metered dose inhaler when it's attached to a spacer. Some experts say that everyone with asthma, even adults, would benefit by using a spacer with their metered dose inhaler.

Dry powder inhalers (DPI) are easier to use than metered dose inhalers because they don't require coordination. The force of the child's inhaled breath delivers the aerosolized powder into the lungs. Most kids over 5 or 6 years old are able to use a dry powder inhaler, although they must be able to inhale quickly and strongly.

However, some people may feel like they get a better treatment from a nebulizer because they can see and feel the mist coming from the machine.

Your doctor will work with you and your child to decide which device is most appropriate. Besides your child's age and abilities, the decision also will be based on what type of medication is needed. Your child may try several different types of devices before you find the right one.

Used properly, though, any device will be effective. Talk with your doctor if you have any questions, especially if you're concerned that your child isn't getting the proper dose of medicine.

Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: August 2011


Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses and treatment, consult your doctor.

© 1995–2014 The Nemours Foundation/KidsHealth. All rights reserved.

Who Treats This at Seattle Children's?

Should your child see a doctor?

Find out by selecting your child’s symptom or health condition in the list below:

Summer 2014: Good Growing Newsletter

In This Issue

  • Understanding the Power and Influence of Role Models
  • Legal Marijuana Means Greater Poisoning Risks for Children
  • Why Choose Pediatric Emergency Care?

Download Summer 2014 (PDF)


Miracle Makers 2014 3:07:00Expand

The 30th annual Miracle Makers fundraising special aired on KOMO 4 TV on June 6, 2014. The special takes us on a journey through the hopes, fears, victories and challenges facing patients at Seattle Children's. Cosponsored by Costco Wholesale and KOMO 4. 

Play Video
Overcoming the Odds: A KING 5 TV Children's HealthLink Special 0:44:45Expand

In the spirit of the holidays, patients, parents and doctors share inspirational stories of healing and hope. From surviving heart failure and a near-death drowning to battling a flesh-eating disease, witness how the impossible became possible thanks to the care patients received at Seattle Children's Hospital.

Play Video
Miracle Season 2013 0:57:06Expand

Miracle Season, hosted by Steve Pool and Molly Shen, aired Dec. 8, 2013, on KOMO 4 TV. The annual holiday special celebrates the remarkable lives of Seattle Children's patients.

Play Video