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J Emerg Nurs. 2014 Mar;40(2):131-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jen.2012.10.006. Epub 2013 Jan 29.

A comparative study of two nebulizers in the emergency department: breath-actuated nebulizer and handheld nebulizer.

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  • 1Camden, NJ. Electronic address:
  • 2Camden, NJ.



The breath-actuated nebulizer (BAN) and the handheld nebulizer (HHN) are 2 nebulizers used in the ED of Cooper University Hospital. The purpose of this study was to compare the nebulizers to identify which device resulted in a resolution of symptoms with fewer treatments. The primary hypothesis was that adult ED patients with a chief complaint of wheezing and dyspnea who were given nebulized treatments via the BAN would require less nebulizer treatments than those patients given nebulized treatments via HHN. In addition, the secondary purposes of the study was to determine if the BAN would have significantly higher peak expiratory flow measurements, lower Modified Borg Score, overall decreased respiratory rate, and lower heart rates compared to subjects receiving nebulized treatments via HHN.


A single-site, prospective, randomized, comparative design study was conducted in the ED between March 2010 and February 2011. Fifty-four subjects presenting with dyspnea and wheezing and an Emergency Severity Index of 3 or 4 were enrolled and randomly assigned to 1 of 2 groups (BAN or HHN). Subjects were administered 1 to 3 nebulizer treatments (#1 ipratropium bromide and albuterol sulfate, #2 ipratropium bromide and albuterol sulfate, #3 albuterol sulfate), which was consistent with the ED Advanced Nursing Guideline for Wheezing. Nebulizer treatments were discontinued if a patient's dyspnea or wheezing resolved. IRB approval was obtained prior to study commencement.


There was no significant difference found between the HHN and BAN in respect to number of treatments, respiratory rate, peak flow measurements, and Modified Borg scores in the 54 subjects. There was a difference of 7 points in pulse rate between the pre- and post-second BAN treatment (n = 51, P = 0.01). Subjects in the BAN group who completed all 3 treatments (n = 18) had a total treatment time that was on average of 10 minutes longer than those in the HHN group.


This study demonstrated no clinical difference between the BAN and HHN in terms of respiratory rate, peak flow, perception of dyspnea, and number of treatments. It is possible that the longer treatment times account for the elevated pulse rate. The data suggests that the higher cost and the longer treatment time do not justify the use of the BAN in this setting. We recommend that these devices be tested with a larger sample size to further test the differences between these 2 devices.


Advanced nursing guidelines; Breath actuated nebulizer; Emergency department; Emergency nursing; Handheld nebulizer; Modified Borg Scale; Peak flow

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