What is the difference between a respirator and a ventilator?

A ventilator assists or carries out the breathing process of patients.

Many people are not aware that there are distinct differences between a respirator and a ventilator, and as a result, the two terms are often used interchangeably. In fact, as both are breathing aids, this confusion is understandable, but their functions are quite different. A respirator is a mask-like device that filters fine particles from the inhaled air, while a ventilator is a machine that assists or carries out the breathing process of medical patients. Perhaps adding to the confusion of terms is the fact that ventilation professionals are known as respiratory therapists.

A man using a respirator.

The most important difference between a respirator and a ventilator is that, unlike a ventilator, a respirator does not perform any actual respiratory function for its wearer. Rather, its purpose is to purify the inhaled air before it enters the lungs, trapping harmful particles and vapors. A respirator usually takes the form of a partial or full face mask that is secured in place with a strap. Its purifying function is performed by a filter, which is placed close to the nose and mouth. Sometimes known as “gas masks,” respirators are useful in a variety of situations where air quality poses a health risk, from furniture finishing to chemical warfare.

People who cannot breathe on their own should have a tube inserted into their windpipe, which is connected to a ventilator.

Ventilator is a device that assists or performs the breathing process of hospital patients with impaired respiratory function, such as individuals with lung injuries or under general anesthesia. Most ventilators are highly complex computerized machines that use a compression system to force air, which can be tempered with oxygen, into the patient’s lungs several times every minute. When this pressure ceases, the patient’s lungs automatically contract, expelling the air that was pushed out by the machine. Patients who only need respiratory assistance can be connected to a ventilator via a mask that covers the nose and mouth. Those totally unable to breathe on their own must be connected to the machine by a tube inserted into the trachea.

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The iron lung, which uses negative pressure ventilation, was one of the first artificial respiration devices.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that medical professionals responsible for dealing with ventilation problems in hospital patients are known as respiratory therapists. It is often the job of these healthcare professionals to prepare a patient for a ventilator by intubating him or inserting a tube into his windpipe, which is then connected to a ventilator. Additionally, the respiratory therapist is usually responsible for helping patients transition back to breathing without the aid of a machine.

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