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The patient inflating valve in anaesthesia and resuscitation breathing systems

Department of Anaesthesia, College of Medicine, Blantyre, Malawi, Africa; and Department of Anaesthesia, Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Yorkhill, Glasgow, Scotland


Patient inflating valves combined with self-inflating bags are known to all anaesthetists as resuscitation devices and are familiar as components of draw-over anaesthesia systems. Their variants are also commonplace in transfer and home ventilators. However, the many variations in structure and function have led to difficulties in their optimal use, definition and classification. After reviewing the relevant literature, we defined a patient inflating valve as a one-way valve that closes an exit port to enable lung inflation, also permitting exhalation and spontaneous breathing, the actions being automatic. We present a new classification based on the mechanism of valve opening/closure; namely elastic recoil of a flexible flap/diaphragm, sliding spindle opened by a spring/magnet or a hollow balloon collapsed by external pressure. The evolution of these valves has been driven by the difficulties documented in critical incidents, which we have used along with information from modern International Organization for Standardization standards to identify 13 ideal properties, the top six of which are non-jamming, automatic, no bypass effect, no rebreathing or air entry at patient end, low resistance, robust and easy to service. The Ambu and the Laerdal valves have remained popular due to their simplicity and reliability. Two new alternatives, the Fenton and Diamedica valves, offer the benefits of location away from the patient while retaining a small functional dead space. They also offer the potential for greater use of hybrid continuous flow/draw-over systems that can operate close to atmospheric pressure. The reliable application of positive end-expiratory pressure/continuous positive airway pressure remains a challenge.

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