Respiratory therapists help you breathe easier

Your Health Matters

Next week, Oct. 20 to 26, is Respiratory Care Week. For those living with asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, pneumonia or lung diseases such as cancer, respiratory therapists become familiar members of their health care team.

Respiratory therapists, or RTs, can work in clinical settings such as a hospital, in outpatient settings or even as consultants. Lindsay Murphy is a registered respiratory therapist with Meritus Equipped for Life. EFL provides durable medical equipment, including machines such as CPAPs and oxygen supplies, alongside hands-on education and guidance from trained RTs like Murphy.

Guiding patients

RTs at Meritus Equipped for Life specialize in consultative respiratory care to help patients understand how to use and maintain their breathing-support devices for the long-term.

“A patient’s primary-care provider and pulmonologist will test oxygenation levels, conduct sleep studies and diagnose before bringing EFL into the picture to provide the best equipment for each unique patient’s care plan,” Murphy said.

Once prescriptions are written for medical equipment, patients may schedule a consult appointment with an EFL RT and learn how to use, manage and care for their specific machines.

Respiratory care options

The equipment a patient is prescribed depends on the severity and type of respiratory ailment diagnosed. Most often, Murphy assists patients with continuous positive airway pressure machines — CPAP — or bi-level positive airway pressure machines — BiPAP.

“These are both breathing devices that help keep airways continuously open,” Murphy said. “The difference is that CPAPs offer a single pressure setting, while BiPAPs offer two.”

The CPAP machine delivers one constant pressure whether the patient is breathing in or out, while the BiPAP machine provides less air pressure when the patient exhales and more on the inhale, Murphy said.

Obstructive sleep apnea CPAP machines are considered the “gold standard” for sleep disorders like obstructive sleep apnea, a common diagnosis for those who have a blocked airway while sleeping. This causes oxygen levels to go down and the heart rate to go up, forcing the person to wake suddenly and then repeat the same thing throughout the sleep cycle. Obstructive sleep apnea puts stress on the heart and dramatically reduces sleep quality.

“Obesity can be a main cause of sleep disorders,” Murphy said. “Exercise can not only help a person lose weight, but is important to build and maintain healthy lungs.”

Patients should check with their primary-care providers first to find the best physical activity for the individual’s breathing capacity, medical history and overall comfort, Murphy said.

Murphy also recommends that people who struggle with exhaustion, snoring, falling asleep while driving, wanting to take naps or high blood pressure should consult a health care professional to be sure they are getting enough oxygen when sleeping.

Preventing breathing problems

All types of respiratory ailments can benefit from preventive actions, so everyone should:

• Stop smoking or vaping

• Maintain a healthy weight with good dietary choices

• Stay active and exercise

• Make sure your inhaler has not expired and that you have medication on hand for emergencies

• Follow up with your doctor often

Meritus Equipped for Life, 525 Dual Highway in Hagerstown, offers a wide range of medical equipment and supplies. For more information about products and services, call 301-714-0200 or visit