What is the Difference Between a Nebulizer and an Inhaler?

Topical delivery of antimicrobials to the paranasal sinuses has intuitive benefits over systemic therapy for treatment of sinusitis. Some of the more effective treatment methods of topical delivery to infected areas are with the use of aerosolized medicines. There are different devices to deliver aerosolized medicine. Two kinds of such devices are nebulizers and inhalers.

Inhalers and nebulizers are two different devices used to deliver rescue or controller respiratory medications directly into your lungs. Your doctor can decide what type of device is best for you.


Nebulizers are electric- or battery-powered machines that turn liquid respiratory medicine into a fine mist that's inhaled into the lungs. The child breathes in the mist through a mouthpiece or facemask, a plastic cup that covers the child's mouth and nose. Nebulizers vary in size and shape.

Keep in mind when using a nebulizer, particularly with a child:

o An individual does not have to "do" anything to receive the medicine, except stay in one place and accept the mouthpiece or facemask.
o It usually takes about 5 or 10 minutes to give someone medication by nebulizer, and sometimes even longer.
o Nebulizers may be less effective if a child is crying while they're being used, since less medicine is inhaled when a child is crying.

Some of the disadvantages of nebulizers are:

o They can be bulky
o Can be noisy
o May need to be plugged in
o Can come with complicated instructions
o Has several parts that you have to assemble before use


Inhalers are portable, hand-held devices that are available in two types:

o Metered dose inhalers (MDI) are the most commonly prescribed. Like mini-aerosol cans, these devices push out a pre-measured spray of medicine. When the person squeezes the inhaler, a measured "puff" of medicine is released.
o Dry powder inhalers deliver medicine in powder form, but it does not spray out. The patient must do more of the work, by inhaling the powdered medicine quickly and quite forcefully (which is often difficult for very young children).

If you use a metered dose inhaler, you may also use a spacer, which attaches to the inhaler and makes it easier to use. A spacer is a kind of holding chamber for the medicine, which eliminates the need to closely coordinate squeezing the inhaler and inhaling the medicine. With an inhaler and spacer, the medicine can be inhaled slowly when you are ready. It is possible for very small children and even babies to receive their medications using a metered dose inhaler with a spacer.

Spacers also make inhalers more effective. When using an inhaler without a spacer, the medicine may go into the back of the throat but may not actually move down into the lower airways. A spacer helps to deliver the medicine into the lower airways, which is where it needs to go to work properly.

Even if a nebulizer poses some disadvantages, it still carries one big advantage: it can deposit smaller-sized particles into your system. As proven in a clinical study posted recently, treatment is more effective with smaller particles since they reach the target destination (usually the place of infection) faster.