Using a nebuliser when you have severe asthma

If you have severe asthma, you might be given a nebuliser to use at home

A nebuliser is a machine that changes liquid medicine into a fine mist. This mist can then be breathed in through a facemask or mouthpiece.

When are nebulisers used?

Nebulisers are used to give high doses of medicine:

  1. In an emergency when you’re having an asthma attack in an ambulance or in hospital
  2. When you’re being given certain tests to diagnose or rule out asthma
  3. If you have a diagnosis of severe asthma and your asthma specialist has recommended a nebuliser for you to use at home.

On this page, Asthma UK’s in-house GP Dr Andy Whittamore answers your commonly asked questions about using a nebuliser to treat severe asthma at home.

I’ve got severe asthma - do I need a nebuliser to use at home?

Not usually. Asthma specialists and GPs are less and less likely to say someone with severe asthma needs to use a nebuliser at home. This is because the latest research shows using a blue reliever inhaler with a spacer is just as effective and easy to use.

Who might need to treat severe asthma with a nebuliser at home?

If you have a diagnosis of severe asthma, your GP, asthma specialist or hospital consultant might say you need to use a nebuliser at home if:

  • You’re not getting enough relief from your inhalers
  • You have another health condition, such as arthritis, that means you can’t use your inhalers
  • You’ve been in hospital with an asthma attack. When you go home, you might be given a nebuliser to use as part of your recovery − usually as a short term loan. During this time, someone from the community respiratory team will visit you regularly to keep an eye on how you’re doing. Once you’re well enough to take the asthma medicines you usually take every day again, you’ll no longer need to use the nebuliser.

Where do I get a nebuliser?

Some hospitals may loan out nebulisers in certain circumstances.

Many hospitals don’t loan out nebulisers. If this is the case and your healthcare professional says you need one, you will have to buy one. Your healthcare professional will tell you:

  • Which one is right for your needs
  • Where to get it
  • The best way to use it
  • How to take care of it.

You only need to buy or use a nebuliser if your GP or asthma specialist recommends one.

If you do need to buy a nebuliser from a shop or online, please make sure:

  • You buy the nebuliser from a reputable manufacturer or dealer to guarantee the quality of the nebuliser you buy (avoid eBay and second-hand sales)
  • Your healthcare professional has said that you need a nebuliser, and has agreed to supply the medicines that go into it
  • You know how to get your nebuliser serviced regularly − get advice from your hospital or the manufacturer before you buy one.

What do I need to know before I use a nebuliser?

To get the maximum benefits from a nebuliser, you need to use it as prescribed, and you need to take care of it. Before your next appointment with your GP or asthma specialist, spend time thinking about what you need to know about using one.Write down your questions so you don’t forget any important ones.

You might find it useful to ask:

Using a nebuliser

  • Which of my medicines do I need to take through the nebuliser?
  • Where do I get the medicine to use in the nebuliser?
  • Do I need to use the nebuliser as part of my everyday routine or do I only use it when I spot certain asthma symptoms?
  • What’s the correct nebuliser technique?
  • How often will you review how well the nebuliser is working for me?
  • Can you check I’m using the right tubing and facemask / mouthpiece?
  • What are the possible side effects of taking medicine through a nebuliser?
  • How do I know when it’s safe to treat my severe asthma symptoms at home and when I need to call 999 for an ambulance?

Taking care of a nebuliser

  • What’s the best way to keep the nebuliser clean?
  • How often does the filter on the nebuliser need changing?
  • Where do I get new filters for the nebuliser?
  • How often does the nebuliser need servicing?
  • Who can I get to service the nebuliser?

Top tips when you’re using a nebuliser at home

  • 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
  • Sit up as straight as you can
  • As much as you can, try to take normal, calm breaths
  • If you’re using your nebuliser more than prescribed, make an appointment to see your specialist team or GP as soon as possible. Be honest about how often you’re using the nebuliser so they can review the combination of medicines you’re taking.

If you have any questions about your severe asthma, our friendly, expert Helpline nurses are available 9am-5pm; Monday-Friday. You can call to talk confidentially on 0300 222 5800 or message them via WhatsApp on 07378 606 728.


Last updated March 2019

Next review due March 2022