Nebulizer Vs Humidifier: What’s The Difference?

Liz Yang

Both nebulizers and humidifiers are common devices for treating respiratory ailments. Many people assume they are the same thing to some extent. They don’t know when to use one or the other. 

This post is trying to clear the air and let you have a firm understanding of the differences between nebulizers and humidifiers.

In short, the nebulizer is a medical tool to turn the medication into a fine mist so that people can inhale it into the airway quickly. A humidifier adds moisture particles to the air to improve the surrounding humidity. The nebulizer focuses on treating diseases, whereas the humidifier is for making you feel better.

Nebulizer vs. humidifier? You can find more details about these two appliances in the following sections. Keep reading!

What is a nebulizer, and how does it work?

what is nebulizer

Nebulizers are medical devices that turn medication from liquid to a mist so users can inhale it into the lungs. They are often used in infants and small children since taking medication is difficult for them. 

Many doctors advise using a nebulizer for asthma treatment. It is also helpful in treating COPD and other respiratory issues. 

There are 3 main types of nebulizers: jet, ultrasonic, and mesh. Jet nebulizers use compressed gas to create the mist, while ultrasonic nebulizers utilize a diagram to break the liquid down into small particles. The mesh nebulizer is the most advanced one. It produces the smallest particles through a fine mesh.

So the nebulizer offers a new way for you to take medicine that could be more effective under some circumstances.

What is a humidifier, and how does it work?

While there are various types of humidifiers, they all boil down to the same purpose – adding moisture to the air. Except for evaporative humidifiers, you can see a mist propping out from the humidifier when it is on. 

As you know, dry air could trigger many respiratory problems. The irritated airway is susceptible to bacteria and allergens, causing infections and asthma flareups. 

A humidifier comes into play by increasing the humidity level. Once the air contains enough water particles, these conditions will be alleviated. 

Using a humidifier at home is beneficial not only for human beings but also plants and pets. 

Some similarities between nebulizers and humidifiers

Before we learn how to differentiate these two devices, we should figure out why people think they are similar. 

Barring evaporative models, nebulizers and humidifiers work on a similar principle. Both of them transfer the liquid to a mist inhaled through the airway.

In addition, they share the function of easing symptoms of asthma and other respiratory problems even though they work in different ways. 

You see, they produce a similar form of mist and are used for treating similar conditions. It is easy to understand why people often confuse the two.

Nebulizer vs. humidifier: differences in 5 aspects

Even though nebulizers and humidifiers share some similarities, they are different in many aspects. They are not interchangeable, and it may cause some adverse effects if you misuse them.

Purpose

A nebulizer allows the medication to go straight into the lungs. So the primary purpose of using a nebulizer is to treat respiratory diseases by taking the medication in an effective way.

The common medication you can use with a nebulizer includes Sterile saline solution, Antibiotics, and Bronchodilators. Aside from that, you may need a prescription from your doctor to use it. 

Humidifiers are not designed for treating diseases, and you can’t add any medication into the water tank. The power of a humidifier lies in a simple but effective magic – water. When the airborne water molecule increases, many discomforts will disappear.

Some vaporizers come with a heated medicine cap on the top. But the medicine often used with a vaporizer usually doesn’t have strong effects, such as the Vicks vapopad.

Cost

Both nebulizers and humidifiers are not too expensive. You can get a pretty good one for under $100. For nebulizers, mesh nebulizers tend to have a higher price tag. For humidifiers, models with higher capacity and built-in humidistat can cost you more. 

So there are no significant differences between these two regarding the price.

Safety

Using a nebulizer is safe, but you should always use it as per the instruction of your doctors. What’s more important is the medicine you place in it. Inhale the right amount of medication is crucial for treating your conditions. 

Humidifiers are also safe in most cases. Nevertheless, you should be careful when using a warm mist humidifier. If your pets or children knock over the machine, the hot water may cause burns and scalding.

Another thing worth mentioning is that the humidifier tank could become a breeding ground for bacteria and mold if you don’t clean it regularly. When these contaminants get into the air, they can cause allergies and infections. 

On top of it, you should monitor the humidity level constantly. When the air is too damp, the dust mites and mold could also trigger breathing problems. 

Effectiveness

Nebulizers are more effective than humidifiers when treating asthma, cough, congestion, or similar conditions. Since the medication can enter your lungs and airway directly, using a nebulizer could reduce infections and increase airflow in a short time. 

Humidifiers spread the water droplets into the air, and it will take at least a few hours for it to work. It can help with relieving the conditions related to dryness. However, you can’t expect it can cure your diseases. Only a tiny proportion of mist will be inhaled into our airway, and the water is not medication, basically.

If your doctor asks you to use a nebulizer for taking medication, don’t use a humidifier instead. It would reduce medication effectiveness significantly, posing a health threat to you.

Maintenance

When I compared nebulizers with humidifiers regarding the ease of cleaning, I found they use similar methods. 

It is recommended to clean the humidifier or nebulizer after each use and thoroughly clean it once a week. You can use vinegar to disinfect the machine.

But some nebulizers can be cleaned by dishwashers which are rare in humidifiers.

Nebulizer vs Humidifier: Conclusion

Even though both nebulizers and humidifiers are beneficial for people with asthma, COPD, cough, congestion, and other respiratory conditions, they are not interchangeable. 

Nebulizers are used for taking medication, and humidifiers are used for improving the humidity. When the humidity is in the ideal range, it can prevent and relieve some respiratory issues. But it can’t ever replace the medication your doctor asks you to inhale. 

Humidifiers disperse mist into the air, and you inhale it by mouth and nose, whereas nebulizers create a mist that directly gets into your lungs without spreading all over the room. Humidifiers use water, but nebulizers use liquid medication. So the effectiveness of treating disease is totally different. 

Everyone can use a humidifier, but only people with some conditions need to use a nebulizer. Don’t try to use a humidifier as a replacement for a nebulizer because it might impede the treatment, which is dangerous in many cases.

Liz Yang is the founder of Airsmartly. She has been working at home for a few years and realizes that the performance of the HVAC system plays such an important role in our life. She has tested a lot of products in person, like humidifiers, air purifiers, dehumidifiers, and ACs, and wants to share tips about using or troubleshooting these products with you. Her uncle is an HVAC expert with over 30 years of experience in the field, and often offers assistance when she is unsure how to handle a situation. He is also in charge of reviewing the articles on this site.

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