COPD Lexicon: What’s a Breathing Treatment?

So, what is a breathing treatment? Who needs them? How do they work? Here’s what to know. Actually, here's some basic terms associated with breathing treatments.

Important terms to know


It’s a small, handheld device that has a mouthpiece on one end and is usually lightweight and made of plastic. The bottom of the nebulizer is a nebulizer cup.

Nebulizer cup

It’s a small cup for inserting solution into. The bottom of the cup has a small opening.

Small opening

It allows for a flow of air to get into the cup. This is what makes the mist. It’s uses a principle in physics called the Bernoulli Principle.

Bernoulli Principle

It’s a principle that says that when a flow (stream) of water goes through a small, pinpoint hole, a negative pressure is created on the sides of this stream. This creates a negative pressure. The solution is drawn into the stream. This creates a mist.


This is what allows you to inhale the medicine. A mist is very convenient for inhaling respiratory medicines. It makes it so no chemical reactions are occurring. It allows you to inhale two or more solutions at a time. You can even inhale two or more respiratory medicines at a time. For example, this allows you to inhale both albuterol and ipratropium bromide in the same treatment. They are even conveniently combined in a medicine called Duoneb.

Solution water

There are two types of solutions you’ll inhale: normal saline and medicine. The most common medicine solution used is albuterol. Another is ipratropium bromide. Again, these are also combined in Duoneb. There are also other medicine solutions you might see. They include Brovana, Pulmicort, and Xopenex.

Normal saline

It’s basically salt water. It contains 0.9% sodium chloride (salt). This is helpful so that the salt in the water matches the salt in your body (which is 0.9%).


Most medicine solutions come in small plastic ampoules (amps). They are very easy to open. All you have to do is twist off the tops. Then you pour the solutions into the medicine cup. Most medicines are premixed with normal saline in these amps. This is nice. In the old days (like, back in the 1980s and 1990s), we had to draw the medicine and normal saline up from bottles. We did this with syringes. The amps make the task of taking breathing treatments easy. It also prevents you from contaminating inhaled solutions with germs.

Air compressor

It’s what makes nebulizers work and creates a flow.


Tubin is connected from the air compressor to the bottom of the nebulizer cup and causes the flow from the air compressor to enter the cup.


It’s what allows you to inhale the mist. You place the mouthpiece between your teeth and close your lips to make a tight seal. You then inhale. Breathe normal. Occasionally, you should take in a deep breath.

It can be used in place of the mouthpiece. It easily attaches to the top of the nebulizer cup. You place it over your face using the straps. You then breathe normally while inhaling the mist.


It’s the amount of medicine you don’t inhale. You will notice that the mist continues even while you’re exhaling. This is wasted medicine. Studies show that it’s high, like 80-90%. But don’t worry. Researchers plan for this waste. They accommodate for it by the dose prescribed. They have tried to get rid of this waste or lower it. But, they have yet to figure out how to do this. So, in the meantime, it’s just something we have to deal with.

Breathing treatment

It’s what we call it when you inhale respiratory medicine. You can call it a nebulizer breathing treatment. But, we usually just say, “Breathing treatment.”

Now you know some important terms associated with COPD breathing treatments. This is all in an effort to breathe easily and live long with COPD.

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