Inhalation Therapy

Inhalation therapy refers to various methods of treatment that work when you breathe in (inhale). Inhalation therapy methods can help improve your breathing and increase the amount of oxygen your body is getting. The decision to use inhalation therapy may be based on your symptoms, physical findings, and results from tests such as lung function tests.


  • Fast heartbeat (tachycardia) from taking certain inhaled medicines such as albuterol.

  • Infection of the airways and lungs during prolonged use of breathing tubes (intubation) and a breathing machine (mechanical ventilator).

  • Accidental inhalation of swallowed material that leads to a lung injury (aspiration injury).

  • A tear (rupture) in the lungs.

  • Bleeding in the lungs.

  • A collapsed lung (pneumothorax).

  • Less blood pumping from the heart (decreased cardiac output).

  • Accidental disconnection of a mechanical ventilator.


  • Medicine therapy—Certain medicines can be delivered by inhalation. These medicines include albuterol and ipratropium for patients with asthma and epinephrine for patients with croup. The medicine is delivered directly to the airways and lungs. This treatment can relax and open the airways and improve oxygen levels.

  • Oxygen therapy—If your body is not getting enough oxygen, oxygen can be delivered through a face mask or breathing tubes that fit under your nostrils (nasal cannula). In severe cases, oxygen can be delivered through a tube that goes in the nose or mouth and down the windpipe (endotracheal tube) that is attached to a mechanical ventilator. The ventilator sends oxygen and air directly into the lungs. Oxygen therapy can be used at home or in the hospital. Oxygen therapy is often used for patients with emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Oxygen can also be used to help treat patients with cystic fibrosis, long-term (chronic) heart failure, and various lung diseases.

  • Incentive spirometry—This is a breathing exercise that helps you take long, deep breaths. It may be used following surgery. It can help rehabilitate the lungs and keep them healthy. A device called a spirometer measures the rate of breathing as you inhale. A respiratory therapist will teach you how to use the device. Once you have mastered this exercise, you will be instructed to practice this breathing exercise frequently on your own. It can be done easily at home.

  • Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP)—CPAP may be used in adults whose airways collapse or become blocked or in infants whose lungs are not fully developed. CPAP delivers a low level of air pressure to keep the airways open and make breathing easier. The air pressure is usually delivered through a face mask as humidified oxygen. The pressure level that is needed is different for each patient. The flow of pressure remains constant while inhaling and exhaling. CPAP can be used at home or in the hospital. Most patients undergoing CPAP treatment in a hospital will receive continuous monitoring of vital signs and periodic sampling of blood gas values. CPAP is commonly used to treat sleep apnea and respiratory distress syndrome. CPAP can also be used to treat patients with moderate to severe respiratory distress. This can include patients with heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), or pneumonia.

  • Hyperbaric oxygen therapy—This treatment is given when there is an immediate need to increase oxygen levels in the blood. The main purpose of this treatment is to prevent damage to vital organs from a lack of oxygen. This treatment is often done at hyperbaric centers, since most hospitals do not have hyperbaric chambers. The patient is rolled into a clear, plastic chamber on a stretcher. Oxygen is then delivered into the chamber under forced pressure. The patient breathes the oxygen in as normal. The lowest possible amount of pressure that is needed will be given, usually 2 to 3 times more than the normal atmospheric pressure. This treatment usually takes 1 hour, although it can take up to 5 hours in serious cases. During treatment, the patient is free to read, nap, or listen to the radio. Before the patient leaves the chamber, the pressure is slowly lowered to normal atmospheric pressure. This treatment is often used for divers with decompression illness, climbers in high altitude, patients suffering from severe carbon dioxide poisoning, and children or adults in acute respiratory distress. Oxygen chamber therapy can also be used to help heal burns and other wounds, such as wounds from an infection, since the pressure can reach areas that are blocked off or suffering from poor circulation.

  • Mechanical ventilation—This treatment involves using a mechanical ventilator when the patient cannot breathe on his or her own. The patient often has oxygen delivered by the ventilator through a breathing tube. Mechanical ventilation is often used in intensive care situations. The patient's vital signs will be continually monitored during treatment in the intensive care unit (ICU).


  • Follow your caregiver's instructions if you use inhalation therapy at home.

  • Do not smoke near your oxygen supply. This can start a fire.

  • Keep your oxygen supply away from electrical sparks, flame, or high heat.

  • Avoid taking medicine to help you relax (sedative) if you use oxygen therapy.

  • Contact your caregiver if your oxygen supply is running low. Oxygen must be replaced in a timely manner to make sure your supply does not run out.


  • You have any new problems.

  • You have any questions or concerns.

  • You have increasing shortness of breath.

  • You have new or increasing chest pain.

  • You have a fever.

  • You start having choking spells.

  • You have a fast or irregular heartbeat (palpitations).

  • You feel lightheaded, or you faint.

  • You are bleeding from the mouth.


  • Understand these instructions.

  • Will watch your condition.

  • Will get help right away if you are not doing well or get worse.