Ambu bag (bag valve mask) – How to use & is it an alternative to a ventilator?


The black swan event of Covid 19 amongst many things taught us the importance of oxygen in patient care. The non-availability of ventilators was a major reason for the setback and delay in critical care. There was a surge in the demand for ventilators. Conventional ventilators are high in cost and would have a high lead time to manufacture. The machines are not portable and cannot be quickly moved to an emergency site. This made the situation worse in certain places and proved fatal too.

The director of Hyderabad IIT was quick to suggest the use of bag valve masks as a possible replacement to address the surge in demand for ventilators. Also known as Ambu bags can be a possible replacement for conventional ventilators due to the following

  1. Ambu bags are quick and easy to produce.
  2. The price of an ambu bag is 100th of a conventional ventilator
  3. They are portable and can be quickly moved and used in a critical care situation

These bag valve masks are currently powered manually and thus limit their use as a ventilator. The mask consists of a bag that is self-inflating and is also called a self-inflating bag.

As per IIT Hyderabad when connected to a portable external power source like a battery pack, these bag valve masks can prove handy in dire straits. When properly designed the battery-powered bag valve mask can be a low-cost replacement for a ventilator even if used once on a patient.

Basis the usage these Ambu bags are of the following types

Reusable. Available in every clinic and ambulance. They are used in cases of accidents and in scenarios where the patient is in dire need of assisted respiration and is not in a condition to do so. This device can be reused after proper sterilization.

Disposable. It is used in case of emergency requiring urgent departure. The bag is equipped with an anesthetic mask, breathing and oxygen bag. Also included is a connector for gas inlet, oxygen tube, air duct, valve for pressure limitation. The bag does not require sterilization and is disposed of after use.

On the basis of the patient's weight, the Ambu bags can be categorized into the following types

  • For infants and children up to 10 kg
  • For pediatric patients weighing 10 to 40 kg.
  • Adult, for people weighing more than 40 kg.

The Ambu bags are priced between Rs 319 to Rs 6000 depending upon the type and the quality of the product. Click on the link above to check out the various types and sizes of Ambu bags to suit your requirements.

How to use Ambu bags

Conclusion: The Ambu bags in their current avatar are operated manually. The bags should be tested for their design and effectiveness as a replacement for ventilators when attached to an external power source. Ambu bags can be a cost-effective, portable replacement only in a critical situation.

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