Development of respirators

Respiratory support has improved drastically over the last few generations. It has been a remarkable journey considering 60 years ago a patient requiring respiratory support had no alternative but to be confined to an Iron Lung, a negative pressure stationary metal chamber. At the office of BCITS, we happen to have one of these relics! Check it out on our history page here in the historical gallery. Or drop by for a visit.

The Polio Epidemic of the early 20th century became “the most feared disease of childhood and adolescence”. Those were frightening time. Poliomyelitis was highly infectious. If you were lucky to survive, you would be left with lifelong disabilities. One big complication from Polio is the eventual paralysis of the breathing muscles. There are pictures of rows of Iron Lungs and patients would be confined to these institutions.


These Irons lungs were big and bulky. They worked by having the patient in an airtight space and manipulating the pressures around the chest. People were living their lives locked inside these metal shells. This was clearly not sustainable and more funding and research went towards unlocking positive pressure ventilation.

Currently, there are many brands of ventilators available. Despite all the different models and shiny cases, positive pressure is the form of delivery they have in common. The air and pressure is generated externally with a turbine and pushed to the patient. Modern day home ventilators are much more versatile and increasingly smaller and therefore more portable, thanks to the development of microprocessors.


Click on the Follow Button at the bottom of the screen to get notified when part 2 in this series becomes available. This is brought to you by Patrick Cho, Respiratory Therapist with the PROP (Provincial Respiratory Outreach Program) department.

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