Which is Best: Inhaler or Nebulizer? How to Choose the Best Asthma Treatment for You or Your Child

Asthma is a condition characterized by inflammation and narrowing of the airways in the lungs. Patients diagnosed with asthma can find relief from their symptoms using inhaled medications.

Both inhalers and nebulizers are used to deliver medications to the lungs for relief from asthma symptoms. These devices administer medication differently and require a different level of skill by the patient to operate them. So, how can a patient choose the best option? First, they need to understand how each one works.


Inhalers are hand-held devices that can easily fit in a pocket or handbag. They are manually operated by the patient by squeezing, and each dose of medication is administered as a “puff.” Inhalers deliver medication instantaneously to the lungs and require the patient to be able to coordinate a strong inhale at the time of the “puff.” Small children and some adults may struggle to properly coordinate these actions.  

For children and adult patients who have trouble properly using an inhaler, their doctor may recommend attaching a “spacer.” A spacer is a tube-like chamber that holds the medication released by the inhaler. Once the medication enters the chamber, patients can then slowly inhale it, without the need to coordinate a strong inhale at the same time the medication leaves the inhaler. Spacers help ensure that patients receive their medication properly. If an inhaler is not used correctly, the medication can enter the mouth, the back of the throat, and the stomach, instead of the lungs where it is needed. 


Nebulizers are electronic devices that turn liquid asthma medication into a breathable mist that is inhaled using a mouthpiece or a mask. A nebulizer consists of a compressor, a tube, and a mouthpiece. To inhale the medication, the patient fits a mask over their mouth and nose, or places their mouth over a mouthpiece, and breathes normally. The patient does not need any special training in order to use a nebulizer. 

Unlike an inhaler, patients need to sit for five to 15 minutes, or until the medication is done, when using a nebulizer. Nebulizers are typically recommended for patients who are unable to breathe deeply enough to properly use an inhaler or patients who are unable to properly coordinate a deep inhale with an inhaler “puff,” such as small children.

How to Decide Whether to Use an Inhaler or a Nebulizer

Patients diagnosed with asthma should work together with their doctor to determine the best treatment solution. The type of device used to administer asthma medication is determined based on the patient’s ability to use the device, the doctor’s recommendation, and the patient’s preference.