Find out why some people with severe asthma are prescribed a nebuliser to use at home, how to get a nebuliser and use it safely, and why it’s so important to follow your consultant’s nebuliser treatment plan.
On this page:
- What is a nebuliser?
- Why do some people use a nebuliser at home?
- What nebuliser medicines for asthma are used at home?
- What do I need to know before getting my own nebuliser?
- How do I use and look after my nebuliser?
- Are there any side effects?
A nebuliser is a device that can deliver high doses of medicines quickly and easily.
It works by changing liquid medicine into a fine mist. This mist can then be breathed in through a facemask or mouthpiece.
Nebulisers are mostly used in an emergency in A&E and hospital, or by paramedics treating you at home or in the ambulance. They may also be used by GPs in medical centres or clinics, and when carrying out certain tests to diagnose or rule out asthma.
A few people, usually those with severe asthma, or other serious lung conditions, are prescribed nebuliser medicines to use at home.
For most people, even those with severe or difficult to control asthma, using an inhaler with a spacer works just as well as a nebuliser. So asthma specialists and GPs do not usually recommend a nebuliser for home use.
But you and your consultant may decide that a nebuliser is easier and safer for you, as long as you’re following an agreed set of instructions on how and when to use it.
This may be because:
- you often need high doses of preventer medicine to stay on top of severe symptoms
- you’re more at risk of severe asthma attacks which need a nebuliser to deliver rescue medicine quickly and easily
- you and your GP have tried different inhaler devices and haven’t found one that you can use easily and well, perhaps because of other health conditions like arthritis.
Follow your nebuliser treatment plan
Make sure you’re following a clear treatment plan put together by you and your doctor, so you know how and when to use your home nebuliser safely. It’s not safe to use a nebuliser at home without an approved consultant plan.
If you need to use your nebuliser for an asthma attack, get medical help quickly.
And see your doctor or specialist if you’re not sure you’re following your nebuliser treatment plan correctly or you’re using your nebuliser more often than usual.
Using your nebuliser at home after an asthma attack
If you’ve been treated for an asthma attack in hospital, you should be discharged only when you can show you’re able to manage well without a nebuliser.
Even if you have your own nebuliser you should not be sent home too soon after an asthma attack, and you should never be told to continue treatment for your asthma attack at home.
Make sure you speak to your own doctor or specialist within two days after you get home They may need to adjust your home nebuliser plan because of your attack and the treatment you had in hospital.
The nebuliser medicines you put into your nebuliser, are sometimes called ‘nebules’ or ‘ampoules'.
Ones you use at home will mostly be:
- salbutamol. This is a reliever medicine which opens up the airways and calms down the inflammation. It’s the same medicine as in your reliever inhaler but at a higher dose.
- corticosteroids. This is preventer medicine. Nebulisers are sometimes needed to deliver higher doses of inhaled steroid preventer medicine on a routine basis.
As with any asthma medicines, you need to review your treatment regularly with your GP, consultant, or specialist to make sure you’re still on the best treatment plan for you.
Some specialist respiratory clinics will loan nebulisers for home use if your doctor or specialist feels you would benefit. But you may need to buy your own nebuliser.
Only buy or use a nebuliser if your doctor or specialist recommends one. They also need to prescribe the medicines to put into it.
Before buying a nebuliser you should ask your specialist for advice about which nebuliser to buy, and where to get it.
You want one that is good quality, and meets your needs – for example, some are portable, others are mains connected.
Your doctor may want to do a home trial before prescribing a nebuliser. This is to see how you respond to nebulised treatment compared to your usual treatment.
Make sure you understand:
- When you need to use your nebuliser and how often
- When to call 999 if you’re using it to deal with symptoms getting worse
- How to use it safely and well, including how to use the facemask or mouthpiece
- What side effects to look out for
- When your doctor or specialist will review your treatment This is usually about a month after you first start using your nebuliser, and then at least once a year.
When you’re prescribed a nebuliser to use at home you should be given clear instructions on how to use and look after it by your doctor, specialist or pharmacist.
Using your nebuliser
Always follow your doctor or specialist’s guidance on how to use your nebuliser and read the guidance notes carefully.
- Wash your hands before using your nebuliser
- If you’re using a mouthpiece, seal your lips around it and breathe through your mouth, not your nose
- If you’re using a facemask, place it over your mouth and nose
- Take normal, calm breaths as much as you can.
Looking after your nebuliser
Read the guidance notes carefully when you first get your nebuliser, so you know:
- The best way to keep your nebuliser clean to lower risk of infection
- How often to change the filters, and where to get them
- How often the nebuliser needs servicing, and how to arrange that. If you are loaned a nebuliser, the hospital or specialist clinic is responsible for servicing it.
Ask your doctor or specialist if you’re not sure about anything. You can also contact the
nebuliser company or manufacturers for advice if you need help with the device itself.
The higher doses of reliever medicine (salbutamol) given through a nebuliser can cause some side effects like a faster heartbeat or slightly shaking muscles. These side effects can feel uncomfortable, but they usually pass quickly.
If you’re using a nebuliser for your steroid preventer medicine, side effects can include a steroid rash around the nose and mouth – to prevent this clean your face after using the mask.
Always let your doctor or specialist know about any side effects you’re getting.
And if you’re using your nebuliser more than prescribed, make an appointment to see your specialist team or GP as soon as possible.
If you have any questions about using a nebuliser at home, call our Helpline on 0300 222 5800, Monday-Friday 9am-5pm to speak to a respiratory nurse specialist. Or you can message them on WhatsApp on 07378 606 728.
Last updated May 2021
Next review due May 2024