The aim of this study was to compare the response to inhaled albuterol after administration by nebulizer with the response after administration by a metered-dose inhaler and spacer device (MDI-spacer) to children with acute asthma. In a double-blind fashion, 33 children (6 to 14 years of age) with forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1) between 20% and 70% of predicted values, and who were seen in the emergency department with acute asthma, were studied. They were treated with aerosolized albuterol or placebo by MDI-spacer, followed immediately by albuterol or placebo administered by nebulizer with oxygen. The dose ratio for albuterol by MDI-spacer versus nebulizer was 1:5. Outcome measures included a clinical score, respiratory rate, arterial oxygen saturation, and FEV1, measured before and 10, 20, and 40 minutes after treatment. With the exception of heart rate (which increased in the nebulizer group and decreased in the MDI-spacer group (p < 0.05), no difference in the rate of improvement of clinical score, respiratory rate, arterial oxygen saturation, or FEV1 was noted during the 40-minute study period between children who received albuterol by nebulizer and those who received it by MDI-spacer. We conclude that spacers and nebulizers are equally effective means of delivering beta 2-agonists to children with acute asthma.