Modern "volume ventilators/respirators," which deliver an adjustable volume (amount) of air to the person with each breath, are valuable in the treatment of people with muscular dystrophy related respiratory problems. Ventilator treatment can begin in the mid to late teens when the respiratory muscles can begin to collapse. However there are people with the disease in their 20's who have no need for a ventilator.
If the vital capacity has dropped below 40 percent of normal, a volume ventilator/respirator may be used during sleeping hours, a time when the person is most likely to be under ventilating ("hypoventilating"). Hypoventilation during sleep is determined by a thorough history of sleep disorder with an oximetry study and a capillary blood gas (See Pulmonary Function Testing). The ventilator may require an endotracheal or tracheotomy tube through which air is directly delivered, however, for some people delivery through a face mask is sufficient.
If the vital capacity continues to decline to less than 30 percent of normal, a volume ventilator/respirator may also be needed during the day for more assistance. The person gradually will increase the amount of time using the ventilator/respirator during the day as needed. A tracheotomy tube may be used in the daytime and during sleep, however, delivery through a face mask may be sufficient. The machine can easily fit on a ventilator tray on the bottom or back of a power wheelchair with an external battery for portability.