Anyone who suffers from a disease or condition that affects the lungs knows how important it is to always be prepared. You could place your head down for a good night's sleep while on vacation only to wake up gasping for air because something triggered an asthma attack. A portable nebulizer can help provide the security that allows you to live a full and fearless life.
A portable nebulizer should be lightweight and easy to operate. It must come with the proper size mask (adult or child) if the unit doesn’t use a mouthpiece. Ideally, you want to get several treatments out of each charge if your portable nebulizer uses batteries. Having a car adapter or a USB charger is also highly recommended.
Besides getting rid of germs, you need to clean all the parts of your portable nebulizer so the machine continues to work efficiently.
How does a nebulizer work?
The best (and fastest) way to treat medical conditions involving the lungs, such as asthma, emphysema, cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy, COPD, or bronchitis, is to distribute the medicine directly into your lungs. To do that, you must be able to breathe in your doctor-prescribed medicine as a fine mist that won’t further irritate your airways. A nebulizer makes this happen in much the same way that a humidifier adds moisture to the air.
To deliver emergency medication, an inhaler is equally effective and may be easier to use since they require no setup to use. Talk to your healthcare provider to decide which type of device will work best for you.
There are two general types of portable nebulizers: atomizing and ultrasonic.
Make sure your nebulizer can effectively vaporize the medications you are prescribed.
Dr. Michael Huynh
BestReviews Medical Expert
Atomizing: This type of nebulizer works by hitting the medicine with a small, focused jet of air that converts it into very fine droplets, making it breathable. These units are louder than ultrasonic models, and they deliver the medication more slowly, requiring longer treatment sessions. If this is a rescue treatment, that might not be a positive. However, an important part of a maintenance treatment for many of these diseases is the breathing itself, so a longer treatment session could be more beneficial in some instances.
Ultrasonic: This type of nebulizer uses high-frequency vibrations to turn the medicine into a breathable mist. Since it doesn’t use a compressor, it runs more quietly and works more quickly than atomizing nebulizers. It’s also smaller and more readily transportable, and it can offer several treatments per charge. Depending on the model, an ultrasonic nebulizer can require considerably more diligence when it comes to cleaning.
Who needs a portable nebulizer?
A breathing treatment with a nebulizer is often done for preventive maintenance. In this instance, you’ll know in advance when your next scheduled treatment should occur. If you’re on vacation, for instance, having a portable nebulizer is an easier, more convenient travel option. However, a portable nebulizer can also be used in place of a rescue inhaler. An asthma attack could happen when you’re not at home or near your doctor's office. In that situation, it’s essential to have a portable nebulizer because it could save your life. The smallest portable nebulizer can fit in the palm of your hand, making it easy to take anywhere, even camping, where there might not be any electricity for days.
Always clean the mouthpiece, or mask, and the cup of your nebulizer after every use. Do not put the tubing or the compressor in water.
Dr. Michael Huynh
BestReviews Medical Expert
Portable nebulizer features
After you've decided which type of nebulizer you prefer, there are a few other aspects to consider. Most of these are based on preference, but a few could be deal breakers depending on your situation.
The items that come with your portable nebulizer can be instrumental in helping you determine which model to purchase. These items might include a child mask, adult mask, mouthpiece, additional air filters, travel bag, and USB adapter. If there is an accessory you need in a portable nebulizer, check to be sure the one you’re considering has it.
Although this mostly depends on the type of portable nebulizer you purchase, if the noise level is a factor, check product descriptions and online user reviews.
Portable doesn't always mean small or compact; it just denotes a unit that can travel with you. If you’re interested in a handheld, lightweight, ultrasonic portable nebulizer, that is very different than a portable compressor model, which is considerably larger and would not fit in a purse.
Power and charging options
Portable nebulizers can be powered and charged in a number of ways. If you prefer charging through a USB port, for instance, make sure that the model you’re considering has this capability.
Some portable nebulizers have a mouthpiece and masks that can be cleaned in the top shelf of a dishwasher. If this is your preferred method of cleaning, look for a dishwasher-safe portable nebulizer. Note that only the parts mentioned can be cleaned this way, not the tubing or the compressor.
It can be difficult if not impossible to get kids to sit still for an entire breathing treatment, especially one that lasts over ten minutes. If this is the case, having a portable nebulizer in the shape of a dog, panda, or elephant might be an option you want to consider.
Do not use water as a substitute for your medicine when having a respiratory attack.
Dr. Michael Huynh
BestReviews Medical Expert
Portable nebulizer prices
The price for portable nebulizers is remarkably consistent.
For around $30 to $35, you can get a compact, travel-size unit that comes with an adult mask and a child mask. These portable nebulizers are handheld devices that feature a rechargeable battery.
In the $40 to $50 range, you have your choice of everything. You can get a portable nebulizer with a compressor or one in the shape of an animal. The compressor units are larger, and some have a compartment that houses the parts when not in use.
There is a price jump after $50. For $100 or more, you can get portable nebulizer kits that include a travel bag and additional accessories, such as multiple masks and mouthpieces, along with a variety of charging connections. Unless you have very specific needs that can only be addressed by one of these bundles, the $40 to $50 range is where you want to focus your attention.
"The best way to clean the outside of your nebulizer is with disinfectant wipes. "
If you suffer from a condition or disease that affects your ability to breathe, it’s crucial that you get the most out of each and every treatment. Following are a few tips to help you do just that.
- Wash your hands. Before touching your portable nebulizer or adding medicine, make sure you have clean hands.
- Inspect all parts of your machine. Make sure there are no cracks in the mask or the tube and the unit is not damaged in any way.
- Add the medicine. Remove the nebulizer cup lid, add the contents of the premeasured medicine vial to the cup, and replace the lid. Note that the medicine used in your nebulizer must be prescribed by your physician and is not included with your portable nebulizer.
- Fasten the mouthpiece or mask to the nebulizer. If your unit has tubing, be sure it’s securely attached to both the compressor and the nebulizer cup.
- Use your portable nebulizer. Turn on the machine. You should see a mist coming out of the mouthpiece or mask. Sit in a chair with your back straight, and place the mouthpiece in your mouth or the mask over your face. Breathe slowly and as deeply as possible. If you can, hold the medicine in for a few seconds before exhaling to allow it to settle in your airways. Continue breathing this way until all the medicine is gone. If you begin to feel dizzy, pause the treatment for a few minutes until you feel better and then resume.
Your portable nebulizer has an air filter that needs to be replaced periodically. Check the owner’s manual for directions on how often this needs to be done for your particular model.
Q. Are there any side effects from using a portable nebulizer?
A. The nebulizer is just a delivery system. Most of the potential side effects would come from the medication. To learn the possible side effects of the medicine that you’re taking, talk to your pharmacist. Deep breathing when you have a disease such as asthma can trigger bouts of coughing that might lead to vomiting. Additionally, breathing deeply for a prolonged period of time can make an individual lightheaded and/or hoarse.
Q. How often can I use a nebulizer?
A. Just because you can carry a portable nebulizer with you wherever you go that doesn't mean you can use it whenever you want. Usage directions, which include frequency, will come with your nebulizer medicine. If you require treatments more frequently than recommended, talk to your doctor. Overdosing on substances such as albuterol can be fatal.
Q. Is a portable nebulizer covered by my insurance?
A. Insurance can be tricky. Depending on your plan, a portable nebulizer might be covered, but that doesn't mean you won't have to pay anything for it. If money is a concern, it’s best to call your insurance company to learn how much of the cost will be your responsibility.