Inhaled bronchodilator administration during mechanical ventilation: how to optimize it, and for which clinical benefit?

J Aerosol Med Pulm Drug Deliv. 2008 Mar;21(1):85-96. doi: 10.1089/jamp.2007.0630.


Bronchodilators are frequently used in ICU patients, and are the most common medications administered by inhalation during mechanical ventilation. The amount of bronchodilator that deposits at its site of action depends on the amount of drug, inhaled mass, deposited mass, and particle size distribution. Mechanical ventilation challenges both inhaled mass and lung deposition by specific features, such as a ventilatory circuit, an endotracheal tube, and ventilator settings. Comprehensive in vitro studies have shown that an endotracheal tube is not as significant a barrier for the drug to travel as anticipated. Key variables of drug deposition are attachments of the inhalation device in the inspiratory line 10 to 30 cm to the endotracheal tube, use of chamber with metered-dose inhaler, dry air, high tidal volume, low respiratory frequency, and low inspiratory flow, which can increase the drug deposition. In vivo studies showed that a reduction by roughly 15% of the respiratory resistance was achieved with inhaled bronchodilators during invasive mechanical ventilation. The role of ventilatory settings is not as clear in vivo, and primary factors for optimal delivery and physiologic effects were medication dose and device location. Nebulizers and pressurized metered-dose inhalers can equally achieve physiologic end points. The effects of bronchodilators should be carefully evaluated, which can easily be done with the interrupter technique. With the non-invasive ventilation, the data regarding drug delivery and physiologic effects are still limited. With the bilevel ventilators the inhalation device should be located between the leak port and face mask. Further studies should investigate the effects of inhaled bronchodilators on patient outcome and methods to optimize delivery of inhaled bronchodilators during non-invasive ventilation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Inhalation
  • Aerosols
  • Bronchodilator Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Bronchodilator Agents / pharmacokinetics
  • Critical Care
  • Drug Delivery Systems*
  • Humans
  • Nebulizers and Vaporizers
  • Respiration, Artificial*
  • Tissue Distribution


  • Aerosols
  • Bronchodilator Agents