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Can you explain the different types of inhalation drug delivery devices?

The majority of inhalation drug delivery devices fall into three different categories: nebulisers, pressurised metered dose inhalers (pMDI), and dry powder inhalers (DPIs). Other unique delivery systems are available that do not fall into these, but the vast majority can be classified as one of these three. Also, variations or subgroupings exist within each of these device categories. For example, substantial advancements have been made in the area of nebulisers over the past 10 years or so. Prior to that timeframe, the majority of nebulisers were compressed air jet nebulisers. During this time, significant progress has been made in the area of vibrating mesh and ultrasonic nebulisers. Similarly, within each of pMDI and DPIs are subsets. Often, these arise out of novel developments or the need for unique capabilities to address a problem statement.

What are their respective benefits and downsides?


Each device has different benefits and limitations. These include attributes like ease of use, portability, duration of time to deliver the dose, and dose range supported. For example, many of the advancements in current nebuliser technologies have been to make them more portable. Previous generations required an electrical power source to operate the compressor, and this limited the patient’s ability to utilise their therapies when they were not at home. Another limitation that each device has is the range of dose(s) that can be delivered. Often, pMDIs are considered to have a lower dose range than DPIs, which are both typically lower than nebulisers. However, DPIs and pMDIs typically deliver the medication in a single bolus dose, while nebulisers can require 5-15 minutes to deliver a dose.


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Dr Philip Kuehl completed his PhD at the University of Arizona, College of Pharmacy in Pharmaceutical Sciences, US, in 2007. Afterwards, he joined the applied life sciences programme at Lovelace Biomedical, where he has worked since 2007. Philip is currently a Research Scientist at LRRI and the Director of Scientific Core Laboratories. His research interests are in the area of inhalation formulation and its effects on deposition, pharmacokinetics, and pharmacodynamics. Philip also serves as on the editorial board of the Journal of Aerosol Medicine and Pulmonary Drug Delivery and as an ad hoc reviewer for several inhalation and pharmaceutical science-based journals.
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Dr Philip Kuehl
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