An ‘iron lung’ is a ventilator which was used particularly in polio outbreaks of the 1940s and 1950s. Iron lung ventilators are largely obsolete in modern medicine having been superseded by modern ventilators.
Modern ventilators utilise positive pressure to ‘push air into airways’ via intubation. ‘Iron lung’ ventilation relied on negative pressure to expand the lung, requiring patients to lie within an enclosed chamber. The iron lung chamber restricts both patient movement and healthcare worker ability to reach patients.
Modern ventilators permit superior ventilation and allow for a safer and more acceptable standard of medical care for patients. It is unlikely that return to ‘iron lung’ negative pressure ventilation would be considered safe, acceptable or a practical approach at present. The current priority is to increase access to modern, positive pressure ventilators.