What is an ambu bag?

Written by maryann depietro
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An Ambu bag is a medical device used to provide assisted ventilation to people who are either not breathing or are having trouble breathing. The bag needs to be compressed to force a volume of air into the lungs. Ambu is a registered trademark name for a major manufacturer of the device. The technical name for the device is a bag valve mask resuscitator or BMV resuscitator.


An Ambu bag is used by medical personal, such as a nurse or respiratory therapist. Using an Ambu bag takes the place of forcing air into the lungs using mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Bags come in different sizes for infants, children and adults. The different sizes are needed to deliver an appropriate tidal volume of air to the patient, based on his size.


An Ambu bag consists of a bag, adaptor and one-way valve. The bag is the main part of the device. It can be attached directly to an endotracheal tube or a mask using the adaptor. The bag also has a one-way valve which allows the oxygen to flow to the patient and prevents the patient from breathing in his exhaled air. Some bags may have a reservoir, which increases the amount of oxygen the patient receives.


Attach the tubing connected to the bag to an oxygen source, such as an oxygen cylinder. Turn the litre flow to 10 to 15 litres per minute. Place the patient face up, with his chin tilted slightly upward to open the airway. If the patient has a breathing tube, attach the Ambu bag directly to the end of the tube. If there is no breathing tube, attach the mask to the Ambu bag and place the mask over the patient's nose and mouth firmly. Squeeze the bag. This forces air into the lungs. Squeeze the bag at a rate of up to 20 breaths a minute.


An Ambu bag is needed when a person goes into respiratory failure, which means he stops breathing. This can occur for a variety of reasons, such as a drug overdose, a severe asthma attack, a head injury or near drowning. If a patient is initiating a breath on his own, but breathing is laboured or shallow, an Ambu bag may be used to make the breath more efficient.


Squeezing the bag too fast can lead to hyperventilation. According to the Association of Respiratory Care, hyperventilation can cause a condition known as respiratory alkalosis. Squeezing the bag at the correct rate may reduce this complication. Although part of the air is going into the lungs, some may go into the stomach. This can cause abdominal distension and may interfere with breathing. Inserting a nasal gastric tube, which can release the trapped air in the stomach, can decrease this risk.

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