An experimental in vitro model was used to determine the effects of intraluminal catheter diameter and length on the delivered dose and particle-size characteristics of salbutamol (albuterol) aerosol delivered by metered dose inhaler (MDI) (Ventolin, 100 micrograms per puff). The dose of aerosolized drug that exited a 16-cm-long tracheal tube with an inner diameter (ID) of 6 mm was compared with that from 4 catheters of differing diameters and lengths that were inserted individually into the tracheal tube. The salbutamol MDI canister was actuated ten times into each delivery system, and the effluent aerosol was trapped onto a filter. The filtrate was dissolved in methanol, and the salbutamol concentration was determined using high-performance liquid chromatography. For the 3 22-cm-long catheters, the delivered dose (mean +/- SD) of salbutamol per actuation for the 22-standard wire gauge (SWG) catheter was 97.5 +/- 3.9 micrograms, which was similar to that for the 19-SWG catheter (102.3 +/- 2.5 micrograms) but was significantly less than that for the 14-SWG catheter (108.2 +/- 4.2 micrograms) (p < 0.05). These delivered doses exceeded those of the 6.0-mm-ID tracheal tube alone (2.33 +/- 0.76 micrograms) and the 13-cm-long 19-SWG catheter (2.17 +/- 0.29 micrograms) (p < 0.001). In a second experiment using a cascade impactor, the distribution of aerosol particle diameters that exited the 6-mm-ID tracheal tube was compared with that exiting a 13-cm-long 19-SWG catheter that extended halfway down the tracheal tube and with that exiting a 22-cm-long 19-SWG catheter inserted into the distal end of the 6-mm-ID tracheal tube. The mass median aerodynamic diameter (mean +/- SD) of the salbutamol aerosols delivered through both the 6.0-mm-ID tracheal tube (1.1 +/- 0.1 microns) and that of the 13-cm-long 19-SWG catheter (1.2 +/- 0.2 microns) were significantly less than that delivered through the 22-cm-long 19-SWG catheter (2.0 +/- 0.1 microns) (p < 0.05). The authors conclude that delivery of respirable aerosol can occur through narrow catheters that function as extended nozzles for MDIs. Optimal dosing will be obtained when the catheter extends the full length of the tracheal tube.