Dear Dr. Manny, I keep seeing pictures of an iron lung machine in my history book. What are they supposed to be? Are they still in use? What happens if they break?
Thanks for your question.
An iron lung is a mechanical respirator which helps someone who has lost control of their breathing, due to the muscles paralyzing. Someone would use an iron lung to help them breathe on their own. People who have contracted polio typically need iron lungs, as do those who have become paralyzed due to poisons.
A person is put inside the iron lung, in what is called the central chamber. The person’s head and neck are outside, while the rest of the body is sealed in an airtight chamber. By altering different levels of pressure, it mimics breathing, which allows air to flow in and out of the lungs.
Since polio has become almost wiped out due to vaccines, there is not much of a need for iron lungs anymore.
Iron lungs are still used to help treat people who have survived polio, but are unable to breathe on their own. There are only three iron lungs in use across the United States. The three people who use them prefer the iron lung to the more updated, superior ways that have been developed to help people breath.
When the iron lung breaks it is almost impossible to fix. One person said that it cost about as much as a new car to keep up the maintenance on the machine every year. There are no new parts to replace the parts that are broken, so engineers have to manufacture a missing part in order to properly replace it.
There is no actual need for iron lungs anymore.
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