Is a Nebulizer Treatment Considered Oxygen Therapy?

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Nebulizers and oxygen treat lungs and heart, but in different ways.
Nebulizers and oxygen treat lungs and heart, but in different ways. (Image: Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of Dplanet::)

Rebecca Anwar, PhD, at The Sage Group in Philadelphia, PA, says “Patient education is the golden egg… [it] keeps patients healthier.” So, knowing the difference between nebulizer treatments and oxygen therapy can be a life-saving education. Mistaking one for the other can lead to hospitalization--or worse.

Nebulizer Therapy

A nebulizer treatment delivers liquid, prescription medicine in a fine mist. Inhaling the mist, through a mouth piece or mask, takes the medicine right into your lungs. A small air compressor, or pressurized oxygen, makes the mist. The nebulizer therapy is complete after the medicine is used up, usually in 10 to 20 minutes. Most patients use nebulizer therapy two to four times a day, but rarely more than once every two hours, to treat lung disorders. Asthma is a condition often treated with nebulizer therapy.

Oxygen Therapy

Your brain, your heart, and everything else, right down to your hair follicles, needs oxygen. Your lungs take it in, saturate your blood with it, and your heart pumps it to your body which cannot store its own oxygen. If your lungs or heart don't work well your doctor may prescribe oxygen, usually by a cannula, a small tube strapped under your nose, at 2 to 4 L per minute. Oxygen is usually used 24 hours a day, or during sleep, but never intermittently for a few minutes, a few times a day.

Useful Overlap

Powering a nebulizer with oxygen is a convenient way to cover two needs with one treatment, for continuous oxygen users. But after your nebulizer runs dry you’ll need to disconnect the oxygen from your nebulizer and reconnect your cannula right away. Be careful, though. Nebulizers need a high flow of oxygen to make a mist. If you don’t turn it down you’ll get quite a breeze up your nose, but that might be even more dangerous than annoying.

Don't Stop Breathing

Breathing is more than a good habit. Oxygen hunger and build-up of carbon dioxide produced by your metabolism both stimulates and regulates your breathing. If your lung disorder is chronic and long-standing (as in emphysema) you might have become accustomed to high carbon dioxide in your blood, and it no longer stimulates you to breathe. That leaves only oxygen hunger as your main drive. Taking in too much oxygen can then put that stimulus, and you, to sleep, sometimes with dire results.

For chronically oxygen starved lungs, enough might be too much.
For chronically oxygen starved lungs, enough might be too much. (Image: Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of Danny Williams)

Best Results

Knowing the reasons for every kind of therapy and medicine you take makes you your doctor's best partner. You've got hold of that Golden Egg!

Nebulizer therapy and oxygen therapy are not the same and can't be substituted for each other. Working hand-in-hand to treat the full spectrum of challenges encountered by patients with lung and heart diseases, they can help you get the most out of every day.

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