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What is an Ambu® Bag?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 24 October 2014
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An Ambu® bag is a piece of medical equipment which is used to help patients who cannot breathe on their own. The official name for this type of equipment is a Bag Valve Mask or BVM, but most medical personnel know these masks as Ambu® bags in a reference to a popular manufacturer. Ambu has been making BVMs since 1953, when an engineer and an anesthesiologist paired up to devise a piece of equipment to get oxygen to patients in need which could be easily used in a range of situations.

Prior to the introduction of Ambu® bags, rescuers in the field provided oxygen to patients through mouth to mouth breathing, which could be imprecise and sometimes difficult to maintain for an extended period of time. The Ambu® bag allows rescuers to get air into patients quickly and accurately, greatly improving their chances of recovery after traumatic events. The Ambu company also promoted early action on the part of rescuers to get patients stabilized before they even reached the hospital.

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There are two basic parts to a Bag Valve Mask. The first is the bag, which is designed to self inflate, drawing in ambient air or oxygen from a tank which can be attached to the Ambu® bag. The bag is attached to a non-rebreather valve, which ensures that patients only get fresh air, rather than rebreathing the air they have just exhaled. The valve can be fitted to a face mask which is snugly sealed over the patient's face, or it can be attached to an endotracheal tube.

To use an Ambu® bag, medical personnel manually compress it at intervals which are meant to approximate the average human breath rate. When they release the bag, it reinflates, ready for the next compression. Ambu® bags are designed to be used by one person, and they can be used by people of varying skill levels, since they are so basic. Many Bag Valve Masks also include a valve which stops air from flowing into the lungs if they are in danger of becoming overinflated, a complication which can sometimes occur.

Among other things, Ambu® bags are among the basic resuscitation equipment which is always included on a crash cart, a rolling cart equipped with everything hospital personnel needs to resuscitate a patient who is experiencing cardiac or respiratory arrest. Ambu® bags are also standard equipment in ambulances and in the kit bags of emergency services personnel. As with most medical equipment, it is a good idea to receive training in how to use an Ambu® bag before utilizing one, so that patients are not injured by accident.

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