We compared two modes of aerosol bronchodilator delivery in 34 patients hospitalized with obstructive airways diseases. The standard mode, therapist-administered up-draft nebulization (UDN), is labor-intensive and therefore relatively costly. The alternative mode, self-administration by a metered dose inhaler (MDI), is less costly, but its efficacy over an entire hospitalization has heretofore not been established. Patients were enrolled after transfer to the pulmonary ward from the emergency room or intensive care units (ICU). We then randomized them to receive metaproterenol q4h either via MDI or UDN. Daily spirometry revealed that MDI and UDN were associated with equivalent bronchodilation initially and equivalent improvement at discharge. The duration of hospitalization for the two groups was also the same. Thus, the two delivery methods were equally effective. We could not attribute this equivalence to pretreatment intergroup differences or to differences in concomitant therapy with steroids, theophylline, other bronchodilators, or antibiotics. Routine use of MDI rather than UDN in all non-ICU adult patients would save $253,487 per year at our institution alone.