This double-blind crossover study compared the efficacy of two methods of delivery (MDI-spacer and nebulizer) of inhaled albuterol to patients hospitalized for an acute exacerbation of COPD. Within 24 h of admission, 20 subjects (mean age, 69 years) with severe airflow obstruction (mean FEV, 0.69 L) were subjected to a treatment with an MDI-spacer (0.36 mg of albuterol or placebo) followed by treatment with a nebulizer (2.5 mg of albuterol or placebo). Active drug was given by only one device (randomly assigned in a double-blind manner), and the entire sequence was repeated in 4 h, with active drug given in the alternate device. Spirometric data and the Borg dyspnea score were obtained before and 1 h after each sequence of treatments. Treatment resulted in significant improvements in the FEV1, FVC, and Borg score. The percent improvement in the FEV1 was slightly larger after treatment with the nebulizer (16.7 percent vs 13.4 percent). Improvements in the Borg score were slightly larger after treatment with the MDI-spacer (-1.08 vs -0.73). However, these differences were not statistically significant. This study suggests that the MDI-spacer system is an effective method of sympathomimetic delivery in this setting, provided patients are able to master the technique.