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Machines used to help people breathe, also known as ventilators, were invented in 1928 as a result of the polio epidemic that swept the United States. Known colloquially as the “iron lung” early ventilators required the patient to lie in an airtight chamber where negative pressure helped the lungs to expand, causing the patient to inhale. It was not until World War II when pilots needed positive air pressure to breathe at high altitudes that positive pressure ventilators began to replace bulky negative pressure devices in medical settings. 

As the respiratory therapist rose to prominence in the medical community, the use of ventilators as temporary measures for patient resuscitation also began to evolve. Patients were no longer resigned to use ventilators merely as a palliative care measure; they were also being used to assist patients who were temporarily ill, in medically induced comas, or who were experiencing significant disease or trauma to their lungs. Fully adjustable ventilators gave rise to the idea that patients could be weaned off of positive pressure airflow and adjust to breathing room air with the use of CPAP masks instead of relying solely on invasive endotracheal tubes.

Today, Airon, Allied Healthcare, Carefusion, Impact, and O Two manufacture portable and standalone ventilators, with or without CPAP capabilities that offer individualized treatment without bulky chambers or cumbersome instrumentation. Additional tubing, batteries, and circuits, as well as carts, cases, stands and bags, are also available giving the ventilator new portability.