Think wearing a mask is uncomfortable? Try being on a ventilator, UAB shows how ventilators work

Updated: Jul. 14, 2020 at 10:50 PM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - We’ve all heard the complaints about face masks: they’re uncomfortable, they’re hot, they cause acne, the list goes on, but after learning what it takes to put a patient on a ventilator wearing a mask might not be that bad after all.

“Imagine your face is in front of a leaf blower it’s actually forcing the air into your lungs,” Jerry King, (RRT), an assistant professor in the School of Health Professions, at the University of Alabama at Birmingham said.

Almost half of the patients in UAB’S COVID-19 ICU have been put on ventilators over the course of the pandemic, according to a press release.

Because COVID-19 does so much damage to the lungs, a ventilator is used to allow the patient to rest and heal while the machine breathes for them.

Ventilators, often referred to as life support machines are used in intensive care units for patients who cannot breathe on their own.

A tube is inserted through the mouth or nose into your trachea. King, who teaches students how to use a ventilator, says the experience is not pleasant.

“This tube allows the machine to push air into your lungs and forces you to inhale, “ King explained. “Having that tube in your throat is irritating, you can’t talk, you can’t move, You can’t cough really well, you can’t swallow. The tube in your throat is irritating enough much less having positive pressure blown directly into your face and lungs.”

King said the machine typically blows air in for one second, then pauses for roughly three seconds to allow the patient to exhale, then repeats for as long as the machine is in use. And that could be a long time.

“In COVID-19 cases, ventilators are often needed for weeks, sometimes for over a month,” King said. “And there are risks to having the tube in your lung, as it can cause damage to the vocal cords, the trachea or the lungs.”

UAB Hospital continues to urge the community to maintain social distancing, avoid large gatherings, wash their hands frequently, and wear a face covering.

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