What are the Different Types of Respiratory Devices?

Vanessa Harvey

The different types of respiratory devices include, but are not limited to, medical equipment such as a continuous positive airway pressure device (CPAP device); a ventilator; a pocket face mask; a bag valve mask; a nasal cannula; a non-rebreather mask; a flow-restricted, oxygen-powered ventilation device (FROPVD); an inhaler; and an airway adjunct. These are used in cases of asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, respiratory distress, shortness of breath, respiratory arrest and sleep apnea. Some of these medical devices are needed for emergency situations in which respiratory arrest or the complete cessation of respiration has occurred or to prevent such an occurrence, because it always quickly leads to cardiac arrest.

A bag valve mask is used to manually force air into a patient who is in respiratory arrest.
A bag valve mask is used to manually force air into a patient who is in respiratory arrest.

A CPAP device helps keep a patient's airway open and sometimes is prescribed for those with a condition known as sleep apnea, which is periods of no breathing during sleep. The ventilator can be used in a hospital, nursing home, assisted-living center or independent home setting for patients who cannot breathe for themselves. Ribbed tubing known as the ventilator circuit enters the trachea or windpipe through a stoma, which is a surgical opening in a person's neck through which he or she breathes. It also might enter via an endotracheal tube through the mouth.

A BiPAP breathing mask.
A BiPAP breathing mask.

Rescue breathing is performed by health care providers, particularly emergency medical technicians (EMTs), paramedics, emergency room nurses and respiratory therapists when a patient is in respiratory arrest. A bag valve mask is the most frequently used respiratory equipment to breathe for the patient until he or she regains spontaneous adequate respirations or is intubated, an invasive procedure that involves passing a tube down through the trachea. A bag valve mask basically is a clear mask that is place over the patient's mouth and nose. A bag is attached to it, and when the bag is squeezed, it forces air into the airway of the individual.

An inhaler is used to ingest medication to prevent asthma attacks or airway constriction.
An inhaler is used to ingest medication to prevent asthma attacks or airway constriction.

Laypeople who are trained in rescue breathing and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), as well as those who are EMTs and paramedics, often carry a pocket face mask when they are not on duty. This is one of the simplest respiratory devices that will allow a rescuer to assist the ventilation of a person in respiratory distress and to ventilate or breathe artificially for someone who is in respiratory arrest. Although the pocket face mask rarely is used on conscious patients in respiratory distress, it often is used on those who are in respiratory arrest when a bag valve mask isn't available. These respiratory devices, like the bag valve mask, are clear masks that cover the nose and mouth and contains a one-way valve to help guard against the transmission of disease.

A nasal cannula helps a patient intake enough oxygen for proper oxygenation of her body's cells.
A nasal cannula helps a patient intake enough oxygen for proper oxygenation of her body's cells.

Other devices such as the FROPVD are also used by EMTs and paramedics to artificially ventilate a patient in the ambulance. Inhalers containing prescribed medications such as beclomethasone are used to help prevent asthma attacks, and others might be used in an emergency to reduce airway constriction. The nasal cannula and non-rebreather mask are respiratory devices used primarily to help oxygenate a person who is breathing but not breathing normally in a way to get adequate oxygen to all of his or her cells.

Airway adjuncts can be oral or nasal and are used primarily by EMTs and paramedics in the field to maintain an open airway during artificial ventilations of an apneic patient. During deep unconsciousness, the tongue tends to relax in a way that can obstruct the airway. Nasal and oral airway adjuncts were designed to prevent airway blockage by the tongue.

The respiratory and abdominal organs.
The respiratory and abdominal organs.

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Discussion Comments


@dautsun - Another asthmatic here. Sometimes I forget to use my peak flow meter, but it really is a good idea. It can be hard to remember to do it when you're right in the middle of an asthma attack though.


@JaneAir - I'm asthmatic too, so I've used various kinds of inhalers a lot. I've also used a device I'm surprised you didn't mention: the peak flow meter.

For those who don't know, a peak flow meter is used to measure how much air you're getting into your lungs. You blow into it, and your breath pushes up a little plastic piece up the meter. When you're asthmatic, you're supposed to do it when you're not having an asthma attack so you know what's normal. Then, you can do it when you're having problems so you know when to use your inhaler and you have a good gauge of when your breathing is back to normal.


@JaneAir - That's good to know. One of my cousins has an asthmatic daughter, and she's always scared her daughter won't remember how to use her inhaler if she needs it and no one is around for some reason. However, her daughter has used it enough times while being supervised I'm sure she could do it on her own if she needed to.


I'm an asthmatic, so I'm very familiar with one of the respiratory devices listed in this article: the inhaler. I've been using a rescue inhaler since I was about 7 years old, so I'm pretty experienced in using it.

Using an inhaler isn't difficult, which is good since so many asthmatics are children. You basically just put it in your mouth and press down, while breathing in. The first time is a little bit weird, but you get used to it pretty quickly.

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