We determined the relative efficacy of two bronchodilator aerosol delivery methods in 18 intubated mechanically ventilated patients with airways obstruction. Two treatment arms, consisting of albuterol 270 micrograms (three puffs) from a metered dose inhaler and albuterol 2.5 mg from a saline solution nebulized with an updraft inhaler, were compared in a single blind, randomized crossover design. Pulmonary function was evaluated using an interrupter technique. Changes in passive expiratory flow at respiratory system recoil pressures between 6 and 10 cm H2O provided the therapeutic endpoints. Paired measurements were made before and 30 minutes after drug delivery. The MDI and NEB resulted in similar improvements in iso-recoil flow (mean increase for both groups = 0.1 L/s). Treatment sequence, severity of obstruction, and bronchodilator responsiveness had no effect on relative efficacy. Albuterol caused a small but significant increase in heart rate that was similar following both delivery methods. We conclude that bronchodilator aerosol delivery with metered dose inhalers provides a viable alternative to nebulizer therapy in intubated mechanically ventilated patients and may result in a cost savings to hospitals and patients.