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What Is the Difference Between a Ventilator and a Respirator?

People keep using the terms interchangeably, which is wrong.

There is a difference between a ventilator and a respirator. Even people who should know the difference are using the terms incorrectly and interchangeably. Generally they talk about respirators as something used on patients, which is not the case.

A respirator is used to protect a person who is working in an area with chemicals or perhaps germs. A ventilator is for patients to providing breathing assistance to patients for whom providing oxygen is not enough. The scary thought here is that one person could need to be on a ventilator for weeks.

A shortage of ventilators is expected in the coming days as more people are admitted to hospitals needing breathing assistance in intensive care units. Tough decisions will need to be made about who lives and who dies. 


Eric Holdeman is a contributing writer for Emergency Management magazine and is the former director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.