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What Is a Resuscitator?

A bag valve mask is a resuscitator used by emergency medical personnel.
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  • Written By: Daphne Mallory
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 15 August 2014
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A resuscitator is a device used by individuals and health professionals to force oxygen into the lungs of a person who is not breathing. Manual resuscitators require the use of physical exertion by the rescuer who tries to get the patient breathing again. Gas-powered resuscitators, on the other hand, require little exertion on the part of the operator, whose main focus is to make sure that the unit does not malfunction and delivers the right amount of pressure.

A manual resuscitator is portable, and while some are primarily used by emergency medical professions, they can be included in medicine cabinet or first aid kit for use by lay persons. They are widely available at various online retail stores and retailers who sell medical supplies to consumers. The two main types of manual resuscitators are the bag valve mask (BVM), which is commonly used by those in the medical profession, and the breath-powered resuscitator, often used by individuals who are not in a medical profession.

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The three components of a BVM resuscitator are a bag, a mask, and a valve. The bag resembles a bulb, and is squeezed to ventilate the patient with ambient air instead of oxygen from a gas powered pressure tank. The mask goes over the patient's face to prevent air from escaping and to help channel the oxygen into the lungs. The valve controls the rate of flow of air into the lungs. An emergency service professional can transform a BVM to a gas-powered one by connecting the resuscitator to a tank.

A breath-powered resuscitator consists of a facial mask that goes over the patient's nose and mouth, with a tube that protrudes out for a rescuer to breathe oxygen directly into the patient's lungs. Some do not have a mask at all, and the rescuer simply inserts a wide tube into the mouth and breathes air into the patient. This is the least effective option, because the air is not trapped by a mask. Breath-powered resuscitators are easy to use, however, and are usually inexpensive. They do not have any bags to squeeze, and therefore there is less concern about fatigue.

Gas-powered resuscitators provide oxygen to patients who are not breathing by the use of gas instead of human exertion. A person has to manually trigger the resuscitator by pushing a button or using a lever, but the unit containing oxygen does the work of delivering oxygen through a mask and endotracheal tubes. Many resuscitators have a "demand mode" feature, which automatically delivers oxygen based on how the patient is breathing. It is often better to use gas-powered resuscitators to avoid the fatigue associated with manual resuscitators, where the operator has to squeeze the bag over and over again while holding the mask in place. There is a risk of causing serious injury to the patient if a gas powered resuscitator malfunctions, however, and the pressure of the oxygen delivered is not limited.

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