Breathing Treatments


Problems with breathing can arise from asthma, pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or emphysema. Today there are several different types of treatments that are used to treat breathing problems: inhalers, oral medications, and nebulizers. They all work but share one objective: to get medication to the lungs to help you breathe better.


Inhalers deliver medications directly into the lungs. There are "rescue" inhalers that deliver medication to the constricted airways quickly, and there are maintenance inhalers that take longer to work, sometimes two weeks.

Some side effects are associated with inhalers, such as rapid heartbeat and jittery feelings. According to a study published in the September 24, 2008 edition of the "Journal of the American Medical Association," people using inhalers containing anticholinergics on a regular basis may be at a higher risk for cardiovascular problems. Anticholinergics are medications that open bronchial tubes to ease breathing and suppress bronchial spasms. Pfizer, the maker of Spiriva, one of the two most commonly prescribed anticholinergics, has asserted that the study's conclusions are wrong and used flawed data.

Oral Medications

Oral medications are mostly used preventatively and do not treat symptoms that require rapid response. Corticosteroids are a common oral medication for breathing problems. They work on a long-term basis to prevent bronchial tube constriction. They are commonly used in combination with inhalers or nebulizers.

As with most medications, oral medications can cause reactions. Some of these are mild. Benadryl, for examply, may cause lethargy, hyperactivity, and dry mouth. Others, such as oral prednisone, can cause severe allergic reactions such as tongue and throat swelling, cardiac problems, or even death.

If you have any reaction to a medication, tell your doctor right away. He or she may need to change your medication or adjust your dose.


A common treatment for asthma, COPD and other breathing problems is a nebulizer. A nebulizer is a machine that uses a compressor to turn liquid medication into vapor, which is then inhaled directly into the lungs. Nebulizers deliver corticosteroids, or long and short-acting bronchodilators to the lungs to help with inflammation and opening of the air passageways.

The nebulizer works by adding a liquid medicine into a cup attached to the machine. When the machine is turned on, compressed air turns the medicine into a vapor that can be breathed in. The user wears a face mask or mouthpiece and should breathe the medicine in for ten to twenty minutes.

There are some drawbacks to nebulizers. One is that most require electricity; however battery-powered nebulizers are also available, and these are often small and portable, and can be hand-carried on an airplane. Nebulizers can also sometimes deliver higher doses than intended and this can lead to side effects such as rapid heartbeat, jitters, anxiety, or irritation to the throat and nose. Common medications used in nebulizers are albuterol and levalbuterol.

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