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What Are the Different Types of Respiratory Equipment?

By SMathis
Updated: Mar 03, 2024

There are many different types of respiratory equipment at use in hospitals, patient homes, and in the community, and dividing them is usually a matter of determining their main purpose. In emergency medicine and long-term critical care, ventilators tend to be some of the most common tools. Ventilators help patients breathe by physically pumping air into the lungs. The simplest models are little more than bags that are manually inflated by doctors and other first responders, but more advanced machines are digitally controlled and can respond in real time to patients’ recovery and lung strength signals. Another category of equipment is designed to treat sleep apnea, a condition where the brain periodically forgets to tell the lungs to breath while asleep, and these same tools are often used for premature babies who may not yet have fully developed lungs. A separate set of tools is intended specifically for lung disorders, whether because of defect or trauma, and some of the more minor equipment is designed to provide a temporary solution for problems like asthma and mucus buildup. Inhalers are a good example in this category. In general, the type of equipment and how it is used varies based on the needs of the individual patient and the nature of the underlying condition.


Ventilators are a type of respiratory equipment that breathes for a person when he or she is unable to pull air into the lungs independently. In the most basic sense, a ventilator is a device that blows air into the lungs and creates positive air pressure within the alveoli. These sorts of tools come in a range of styles and sophistication levels, from bag ventilators to highly specialized monitors. They are used in emergency medicine, at home, with anesthesia, and in intensive care units.

There is some concern that patients who are on ventilators for a long time could grow dependent on them, and as a result most medical practitioners try to limit use during recovery, usually with a mind to weaning patients off as they grow stronger. High frequency percussive ventilators are sometimes used when patients need high respiratory rates, and these can help reduce lung injury that may occur from being on a ventilator long-term.

Tools for Sleep Apnea

Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) and bi-level positive airway pressure (BiPAP) machines are examples of respiratory equipment used by adults who have sleep apnea, and in many instances they’re also recommended for premature infants. Through a mask, the CPAP provides continuous airflow that stops apnea episodes – namely, the closing of airway passages during sleep. BiPAP machines also work through a mask and provide bi-level airflow. The main difference is that a BiPAP provides one level of air pressure when a patient breathes in and one level of airflow when the patient breathes out, in contrast to the constant flow provided by the CPAP.

Many premature infants are sent home from the hospital with apnea monitors. In premature babies, the nervous system hasn’t often developed enough to allow them to have non-stop breathing. In these cases, the machine often has a small belt containing sensory wires that are connected to a monitor. The belt is worn around the infant’s chest and is connected to the monitor that sounds an alarm when he or she stops breathing.

Treating Lung Disorders

Nebulizers are devices that delivers various types of pulmonary medications into the lungs of a patient. There are many different types of nebulizers. Some are portable and some are stationary.

Oxygen concentrators and liquid oxygen are also good examples in this category. Some patients with lung disorders need supplemental oxygen. An oxygen concentrator is plugged into a wall outlet and provides supplemental oxygen through tubing that is attached to the machine. A tank of liquid oxygen will also provide the patient with supplemental oxygen and it does not require electricity, therefore facilitating the mobility of the patient.

Inhalers and Temporary Solutions

Chest percussion equipment is used to help clear lung secretions. A percussor is a hand-held device that is used on a patient’s lungs to break up the mucus so he or she can cough it out. There is also a vest system that clears lung secretions: a patient puts on an inflatable vest and connects it to an air compressor which then vibrates against the chest and loosens pulmonary secretions. People who suffer from asthma often carry portable inhalers that can help open airways in the case that they become swollen or inflamed, usually as a reaction to environmental triggers or stress.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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