To examine and compare the efficacy and safety of different routes of administration of salbutamol in treating hyperkalemia, 15 patients with chronic renal failure (blood urea nitrogen > 80 mg/dL, serum creatinine > 8.0 mg/dL) were enrolled to sequentially receive either intravenous infusion (0.5 mg) or nebulization (10 mg) of salbutamol. Five of these patients (33.3%) did not respond to the intravenous salbutamol and were excluded from the study. Both treatments significantly decreased plasma potassium in 10 patients and the decrease was sustained for at least 3 hours. After infusion, the maximal reduction in plasma potassium levels was 0.92 +/- 0.10 mEq/L and occurred after 30 minutes. On the other hand, the maximal reduction in plasma potassium after nebulization (0.85 +/- 0.13 mEq/L) was similar to that after infusion, but it occurred after 90 minutes. Insulin and blood glucose increased, whereas blood pH, PCO2, sodium, osmolality, and blood pressure did not change after either treatment. Heart rate increased significantly after both treatments, but less after nebulization than after infusion. It is concluded that both infusion and nebulization are simple, effective, and safe therapeutic modalities for the treatment of hyperkalemia in patients with chronic renal failure. Infusion should be used in patients requiring a rapid decrease in plasma potassium; nebulization, on the other hand, should be used in patients with coronary artery diseases.