What is an Oxygen Mask?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 10 October 2019
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Oxygen masks are devices that are constructed to supply oxygen or other gases to an individual. Masks of this type fit snugly over the nose and mouth, and are equipped with a tube that connects the oxygen mask to a storage tank where the oxygen is contained. The mask may be constructed of rubber, silicone, or plastic. There are a number of different types of oxygen masks in use. Some are designed for use in medical facilities while others are routinely part of the support equipment supplied to firemen, the military, and members of several other professions.

For most people, the first type of oxygen breathing mask that comes to mind is the simple mask that is used in hospitals. Known as an oral nasal mask, this device is utilized to help prepare people for surgery, often by supplying them with anesthesia that is breathed in through the mask. Another application has to do with trauma patients who are having difficulty breathing on their own, either due to injuries or the presence of various health conditions, like lung cancer. In this scenario, the mask can help to supply oxygen quickly, preventing the individual from further distress.


Outside of hospitals, the oxygen mask is also an important component of emergency medical transport services. Ambulances and similar vehicles routinely carry masks and tanks of oxygen for use with individuals who suddenly lose conscious or have difficulty breathing. The use of this life-saving equipment allows technicians to stabilize the patient during the trip to the hospital.

People with breathing problems are also likely to have a small oxygen mask and air tank in their homes. This includes people who suffer with allergies as well as others who may require assistance breathing due to long time use of tobacco or some other activity that has impaired their ability to breathe properly. While some people must use a mask and tank at all times, others utilize the devices on an as-needed basis.

Several professions also make use of the oxygen mask. Pilots require the use of masks when flying at certain altitudes. Firemen make use of what is known as full-face masks when attempting to enter burning buildings. Law enforcement officials will sometimes wear oxygen masks as part of a raid, especially when tear gas or some other device has been used to render criminals incapable of resisting.

An oxygen mask is standard equipment in the passenger sections of airplanes. In the event of a sudden loss of cabin pressure, the masks drop down from overhead compartments. Passengers can quickly don the masks and be able to continue breathing while the plane arranges for an emergency landing. In all its forms, the oxygen mask has been responsible for saving countless lives in many situations, ranging from military operations to medical emergencies.


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