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Respirator vs ventilator: what's the difference?

Respirator vs ventilator: what's the difference?

Respirator vs ventilator: what's the difference?


The coronavirus epidemic changed the world for everyone. Many of us first heard of the coronavirus in the early days of the new 2020. Even fewer of us had ever heard that the coronaviruses have existed since the mid-1960s and they kill tens of thousands very year, just like the flu epidemics.


However, the new coronavirus is something completely unprecedented. A virus that is capable of causing acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) and that in severe cases leads to death, and for which there is still no proven vaccine. According to the latest data, about 29% of COVID-19 patients in Wuhan have developed acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) in mid-December. This syndrome causes inflammation of the lungs, the recovery from which can take up to 15 years, shows a Washington-led study.


COVID-19 has become the scourge of 2020, and now poses unprecedented challenges not only to health wokers leading the battle with the virus, but also to global economies and ordinary people, waking up every morning with breaking news and number of death cases.


In the context of a global pandemic and states of emergency across the globe, many of us have heard terms medical "respirator" and "ventilator" for the first time in our lives. 


  • Are respirators and ventilators one and the same?
  • Can they be used interchangeably?
  • Are they both face masks?
  • Or are they both vantilating machines?

Medical terminology can be confusing for many of us, but the correct use of these two terms is important, especially in times of crisis. So, todoay we will fully unravel the topic of respirators vs ventialtors - two life-saving devices with tremendous application during the COVID-19 pandemic. 


What is a ventilator?

In medicine, the term ventilator is used for a machine that helps a patient to breathe. This type of device pumps oxygen into the lungs and removes carbon dioxide through a tube. The process of placing this tube in the patient's respiratory system (and in particular the trachea) is called intubation.


COVID-19 is a respiratory disease that can cause acute pneumonia, developing in the lungs and, in the severe cases, requiring the patient to be intubated in order to save his life. For this reason, invasive ventilation machines are used to treat patients with COVID-19, some of whom develop sever pneumonia requiring aided breathing. 


The ventilator as a medical device was first used around 1735-45. The word origin of the term stems from the Latin ventilāre "ventilate" - (transitive) to ventilateair.


Example of a high grade medical ventilator



Typical medical ventilatorVentilator machine for assisted breathing



What is a respirator?

In short, a respirator is a mask-like device made up of several layers that is worn over the mouth or over the nose and mouth in order to prevent the inhalation of harmful substances or pathogenic aerosols. For example, healthcare professionals wear respirators when caring for patients with COVID-19. In the absence of respirator masks, the most common substitute is surgical masks.


Respirators N95 / KN95

The N95 / KN95 masks are classified as a highly reliable means of protecting the upper respiratory tract against exposure to airborne viruses as well as harmful gases. KN95 models became one of the main handy means of protection against COVID-19 at the beginning of the epidemic in Wuhan, China. Respirators are specially designed to fit snugly on the face in order to filter the maximum number of particles.


Typical respirator masks type n95 on a manequin.


So how to use the terms respirator and ventilator?

Ventilators are sometimes called respirators as the two terms both refer to something related to artificial respiration. However, it is important not to confuse the two terms, as well as to take into account the major technical differences between the two.

Use the term "ventilator" when referring to a machine that provides breathing for a pateint who is unable to do so on their own.


Use the term "respirator" when referring to a masklike device worn over the mouth, or nose and mouth to prevent the inhalation of aerial borne droplets, dust and viruses.


  • N95 respirators are used by the general public;
  • The most commonly used respirator masks are N95 / KN95 because they provide a high degree of protection, are inexpensive, and are still available;
  • General precautions must be observed, even when using a N95 mask with a high degree of protection;
  • Respirators can be used both in hospitals and in industrial sites as well as by the general public.

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