This information sheet provides people with asthma and carers of people with asthma general information on how nebuliser pumps operate and associated maintenance issues.
A nebuliser pump is used to administer liquid medication in a vapour form. Air is pumped through the liquid under pressure to produce a fine mist that can be inhaled through a mask or mouthpiece. Only some people with asthma need a nebuliser pump. Pumps are generally used for the elderly, the very young, in acute attacks and for severe asthma. However, most people with asthma can use other delivery devices, including a puffer and spacer that are just as effective if used correctly.
Factors to consider when buying a pump include the severity of asthma, frequency of use, the type of medication being nebulised, the number of people using the pump and where the pump will be used. The quality of a pump is a very important factor that determines drug delivery.
Nebuliser pumps need 240 volts from the electric mains or 12 volts from a portable or car battery. Multi-voltage pumps are available (ie. 240, 110 and 12 volts) as are foot-powered pumps and self-contained battery pumps. Generally when more than one person is using the same pump, when medications are being mixed or if the pump is used for inhaled steroids or antibiotics, a high flow pump is necessary.
Pumps should be serviced every 6-12 months, depending on frequency of use. This will ensure they deliver the 6-8 litres of air per minute which is necessary for effective delivery of the medication.
When operating a pump it must be placed on a firm, clean surface such as a table or floor, to allow smooth running of the pump. A pump should nebulise 80% of the medication in the first 8 minutes of administration and it is common to have some liquid left in the bowl.
People should be encouraged to mouth breathe through either a face mask or mouthpiece to gain maximum benefit from administration of the medication. The mouth pieces should be rinsed after every use and washed in warm water, dried naturally and stored in an airtight container. Children under the age of 5 should use a mask, otherwise a mouthpiece is encouraged.
It is a good idea to remove glasses when using a pump to protect the lenses. Many people choose to use goggles to prevent the medication entering the eyes. This is often beneficial when using the pump on a regular basis.
Nebuliser bowls are disposable and need to be replaced regularly. Bowls should also be rinsed after each use, washed in warm water daily and allowed to dry naturally and stored in an airtight container. Once a week the mask, mouthpiece and bowl should be soaked in a disinfectant such as Nebuclean. The majority of pumps are electric, however, there is also a variety of ultrasonic pumps that are very effective in administering medication but they are more expensive.
There are many issues to consider when travelling overseas with a pump. It’s a good idea to contact the airline concerning their policy regarding nebuliser pumps. You will also need to be aware of the different voltages and power sockets in other countries (for example, Europe and the USA).