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Respiratory Therapists and Technicians


In normal respiration, the chest muscles and the diaphragm (a muscular disc that separates the chest and abdominal cavities) draw in air by expanding the chest volume. When this automatic response is impaired because of illness or injury, artificial means must be applied to keep the patient breathing and to prevent brain damage or death. Respiratory problems can result from many conditions. For example, with bronchial asthma, the bronchial tubes are narrowed by spasmodic contractions, and they produce an excessive amount of mucus. Emphysema is a disease in which the lungs lose their elasticity. Diseases of the central nervous system and drug poisoning may result in paralysis, which could lead to suffocation. Emergency conditions such as heart failure, stroke, drowning, or shock also interfere with the normal breathing process.

Respirators, or ventilators, are mechanical devices that enable patients with cardiorespiratory problems to breathe. The iron lung was designed in 1937 by Philip Drinker and Louise A. Shaw, of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, primarily to treat people with polio. It was a cylindrical machine that enclosed the patient's entire body, except the head. This type of respirator is still in use today. The newer ventilators, however, are small dome-shaped breastplates that wrap around the patient's chest and allow more freedom of motion. Other sophisticated, complex equipment to aid patients with breathing difficulties includes mechanical ventilators, apparatuses that administer therapeutic gas, environmental control systems, and aerosol generators.

Respiratory therapists and technicians and their assistants are the workers who operate this equipment and administer care and life support to patients suffering from respiratory problems.

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