Snorkelling masks to the rescue

Picture: Isinnova.

Full-face snorkelling masks might have received a mixed reception in recent years, but now it seems that the concept could prove to be a life-saver.

An Italian research institute has designed a connector which, when fitted to such a product, provides an emergency ventilation mask. The idea could help hospitals struggling to cope with the coronavirus pandemic amid a shortage of medical CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) masks.

French retailer Decathlon, which includes diving equipment among its ranges, has now started selling its Easybreath full-face snorkelling masks to hospitals, while Brescia-based Isinnova (Institute of Studies for the Integration of Systems) is providing at no cost its patented design for a ventilator link to the mask that can be produced by 3D printers.

Isinnova had already developed a 3D-printed emergency ventilator valve for a hard-pressed Italian hospital. Dr Renato Favero, head doctor at another hospital, heard about this and contacted the research institute with his idea for converting snorkelling masks. Isinnova got in touch with Decathlon, which immediately agreed to help.

“The product was dismantled, studied and the changes to be made were evaluated,” says Isinnova. “A new component was then designed to guarantee the connection to the ventilator. We called the link the Charlotte Valve, and we quickly printed it using 3D printing.

27 March 2020

The prototype was tested on a colleague at the first hospital and proved to be working correctly.

“The hospital itself was enthusiastic about the idea and decided to test the device on a patient in need,” says Isinnova. “The testing was successful.”

Isinnova stresses that neither the mask nor the link are certified for biomedical use, so a patient must sign a declaration to make use of it.