What Is the Venturi Mask?

Jillian O Keeffe

When a doctor thinks that a patient with a medical condition needs to take in more oxygen, he or she may administer the extra oxygen through a Venturi mask. This is a plastic face mask that takes in air from the room but also mixes in pure oxygen from an oxygen storage canister. Each mask is only used once, but the doctor can adjust the concentration of oxygen for the patient. Commonly, this is a suitable treatment for those with longterm lung conditions.

A nasal cannula may be used in lieu of a Venturi mask, but the oxygen concentration levels are often more difficult to determine.
A nasal cannula may be used in lieu of a Venturi mask, but the oxygen concentration levels are often more difficult to determine.

A human body needs oxygen for normal functioning, and low concentrations of oxygen in the blood can be dangerous to health. Several different conditions can cause low oxygen levels, including problems with the lungs, as these organs normally take in oxygen efficiently from the air. A doctor typically assesses the patient for signs that he or she is not getting a healthy level of oxygen, and figures out how much extra oxygen the patient needs.

Patients undergoing oxygen therapy may experience a dry nose, mouth and throat.
Patients undergoing oxygen therapy may experience a dry nose, mouth and throat.

Venturi masks are made up of a soft plastic covering for the nose and mouth, with a tube attached to the front of the mask where the air and the oxygen are channeled up into the mask. The Venturi effect refers to a physical phenomenon where gas that goes into a narrow part of a tube is at low pressure, allowing higher pressure gas into the tube. In the case of the Venturi mask, the first gas is the oxygen and the second gas is the air from the room the patient is in.

Regular air contains 21% oxygen, which is a high enough concentration for healthy people. Sick people can receive much higher concentrations of oxygen, as it is the primary substance in the air that people need. The various settings that a doctor can apply to a Venturi mask range from 23% up to 40% oxygen. He or she can set these by placing specific adapters onto the mask tubing.

People who wear the mask may experience skin problems over time if the mask is too tight. The unnatural levels of oxygen can also make a patient breathe in shallow breaths or take in too little breaths, which can make the blood oxygen levels too low for safety. Another possibility, which is related to breathing problems, is that the person's lung may collapse. Although a Venturi mask is a common piece of equipment in hospital settings, it is not the only option for oxygen delivery via a mask, and different masks may be more suitable for individual patients than others.

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Discussion Comments


Being on oxygen therapy is a pain in the neck. Those masks always make me feel like I'm being suffocated, even when I need them in order to feel better. It's kind of a no-win situation.

Unfortunately there's no avoiding it when you've got certain conditions, so you've just got to get used to the closed in feeling and try to ignore it.


@Ana1234 - The problem is, now more than ever, hospitals need to be aware of infections, particularly of those so-called super-bugs. From what I've read, in order to sterilize surgical equipment, they will put them into a special heating unit that will reach enormous temperatures to kill off anything that might be on there, without relying on antiseptics.

Venturi masks aren't made of strong enough stuff to withstand the kind of heat needed to really kill off all the bugs and become hospital-grade sterilized. And even if they were, I suspect the process of sterilization would be more expensive than just making a new mask.

I think in an ideal world, what they should do is recycle the old masks by melting them down and making something new. I'm almost positive most hospitals don't do this, however.


I guess you learn something new every day. I've been in hospitals a great deal in the last few years, because my mother has been sick and so I've seen these masks a lot, but it never even occurred to me that they have a special name.

I also didn't realize that they only get used once and then are thrown away. I guess I understand that they could spread infections between people, but it seems like an awful waste to do that.

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