The Iron Lung | Science Museum - Deepstash
The Iron Lung | Science Museum

The Iron Lung | Science Museum

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Imagine the terror of not being able to breathe because your lung muscles are paralysed. You're gasping for air as the medical team slides you into something that looks like a coffin on legs. They seal you in up to your neck and a strange 'whooshing' sound starts somewhere in the room. Then, relief! Your lungs pull in fresh air and you find you're breathing again.



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What's An Iron Lung?

What's An Iron Lung?

The coffin-like cabinet respirator—better known as the 'iron lung'—was the state-of-the-art in life support technology in the first half of the 20th century. The first iron lung was used at Boston Children's Hospital to save the life of an eight-year-old girl with polio in 1928.


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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  1. What kind of patients it treated? Patients with ACUTE POLIO
  2. Why? Because patients with polio had symptoms of ACUTE MUSCLE PARALYSIS and if it affected the chest, the patient could not breathe.
  3. How is the Iron Lung a solution to this problem? Because Iron Lungs helped the patient to "Breathe"
  4. Who invented Iron Lungs? Philip Drinker and Louis Agassiz Shaw invented the first iron lung at Harvard School of Public Health


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Examples Of Iron Lung

Examples Of Iron Lung

The Smith-Clarke Baby cabinet respirator, with built-in pump was made at the request of a paediatrician, 1956-1970. It influenced the later development of incubators for babies.


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Going into an iron lung was a bewildering process for patients, many of whom were delirious and in extreme pain.

Life in an iron lung was difficult for both patient and carers. The numerous tasks involved in treating the patient included:

  • blood transfusions
  • intravenous glucose feeds
  • inserting and replacing catheters
  • and endless adjustments to the body and equipment.

In addition to medical care, itches were scratched, noses blown, hair combed, bodies washed and bedpans inserted and removed, all through the portholes as far as possible. (See image above)


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Is It Still Used Today?

Is It Still Used Today?

Once an effective polio vaccine was developed in the 1950s, the incidents of polio infection fell dramatically and only a very few machines were needed in hospitals. But patients dependent on them to breathe the old iron lungs were gradually replaced with modern ventilators.


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