The Role of Nebulized Therapy in the Management of COPD: Evidence and Recommendations
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Current guidelines recommend inhalation therapy as the preferred route of drug administration for treating chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Previous systematic reviews in COPD patients found similar clinical outcomes for drugs delivered by handheld inhalers - pressurized metered-dose inhalers (pMDIs), dry powder inhalers (DPIs) - and nebulizers, provided the devices were used correctly. However, in routine clinical practice critical errors in using handheld inhalers are highly prevalent and frequently result in inadequate symptom relief. In comparison with pMDIs and DPIs, effective drug delivery with conventional pneumatic nebulizers requires less intensive patient training. Moreover, by design, newer nebulizers are more portable and more efficient than traditional jet nebulizers. The current body of evidence regarding nebulizer use for maintenance therapy in patients with moderate-to-severe COPD, including use during exacerbations, suggests that the efficacy of long-term nebulizer therapy is similar, and in some respects superior, to that with pMDI/DPIs. Therefore, despite several known drawbacks associated with nebulized therapy, we recommend that maintenance therapy with nebulizers should be employed in elderly patients, those with severe disease and frequent exacerbations, and those with physical and/or cognitive limitations. Likewise, financial concerns and individual preferences that lead to better compliance may favor nebulized therapy over other inhalers. For some patients, using both nebulizers and pMDI/DPI may provide the best combination of efficacy and convenience. The impact of maintenance nebulizer treatment on other relevant clinical outcomes in patients with COPD, especially the progressive decline in lung function and frequency of exacerbations, needs further investigation.
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