iron lung

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The lay term for the type of respirator invented by the American industrial hygienist Philip Drinker (1893–1972). This works by encasing the body in an airtight cylinder (the iron lung), within which the air pressure is alternatively raised and lowered, producing suction that causes lungs to inflate and pressure that deflates the lungs, thus mimicking the process of inhalation and exhalation when respiratory muscles are paralyzed, e.g., by poliomyelitis. In the severe polio epidemics from the 1930s to the early 1950s, the use of iron lungs saved many lives.

Subjects: Public Health and Epidemiology.

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