CPR Barrier Devices

By June 3, 2016 June 5th, 2018 Health, Safety

CPR barrier devices are a type of personal protective equipment which is specifically designed to protect rescuers from exposure to infection when they are in close contact with victims. It’s becoming an increasingly important issue due to HIV and a number of other viruses which are carried in our blood and some other body fluids.

Since there is no way to confirm if the victim of a cardiac arrest is carrying these or any other infectious diseases, it is highly recommended to use CPR Barrier Devices in order to keep the victim’s fluids out of the rescuer’s mouth in case rescue breaths are needed.

Below we’ll talk about the different types of barrier devices, pros and cons, and how to use them. If you want hands-on practice, we train on barrier devices in our local CPR classes.

Types of CPR Barrier Devices

There are primarily two types of CPR Barrier Devices most commonly used by lay rescuers. Of course, slight variations exist within the two main types. We’ll discuss these devices, the pros and cons, and show you images of each. Hopefully this informs you better of the purpose for each type of CPR barrier device, and which one would work best for you if you are looking to get one.

Face Shields

cpr face shield

A face shield is a flat plastic barrier that is laid across the victim’s mouth and nose. In the center of the plastic is some sort of permeable barrier that allows air to go through, but doesn’t allow fluids to come back up. This is a one-size-fits-all device that works on infants and all the way up to adults.

Some barrier devices are a little more sophisticated. Instead of just a semi-permeable barrier in the center, they have one-way valve. Do a better job of allowing air to go through one side, but no air or fluid can come through the other way. In addition, there are plastic pieces on the back side of the CPR face shield that fit between the teeth to keep the face shield in place and keep the mouth slightly open while giving breaths. You can see an example of this in the picture below.

cpr face shield with one-way valve

Though this is a lay-rescuer skill, these face shields are carries by many off-duty healthcare and public safety professionals. Most of the time, this flat plastic barrier can be folded up tightly and fit on a keychain. Additional feature may include gloves and alcohol wipes that fit in the keychain pouch.

cpr keychain mask

Pocket Masks

The other type of CPR Barrier Device is a mask. It is commonly shaped as a donut or a pear shape. Both masks are intended to fit over both the mouth and nose. Rescuers are not required to pinch the nose because the mask makes a seal, and the air goes into the mouth and nose.

cpr mask bigeasy cpr mask

CPR masks do take a little more training and skill. Often times rescuers have trouble getting a good seal around the face because they did not position the mask correctly or they do not use correct hand placement to seal the mask.

Another benefit to the CPR mask is that rescuers find that it is easier to give breaths. It also provides some more space between the rescuer’s face and the victim’s.

All CPR masks come with a one-way valve which ensures the best protection from communicable diseases. These one-way valves are disposable and not meant for reuse. They usually come already fitted on the mask.

one-way valve

Most masks will come with either a soft-shell or hard-shell case. This protects the mask and makes it easy to carry. Often times these cases will also contain the one-way valve, gloves and alcohol wipes.

Improvised CPR Barrier Devices

What do you do if you need to give breaths to someone but don’t have a barrier device? There’s no official standard on what can be used as an improvised barrier device. Some people in extreme conditions have used their shirt to give breaths through. Others have poked holes in plastic bags. Just be aware that these are not approved methods by the American Heart Association, and the rescuer can be held liable for using techniques that are not part of the national CPR guidelines.

In the event you don’t have a CPR Barrier Device of any kind, it is acceptable to do hands-only CPR by providing non-stop compressions. Sometimes barrier devices are needed when people have a pulse but are not breathing ok. This is called rescue breathing which is a technique we teach in our local First Aid classes. The same barrier device can be used, but a different technique is applied.

Where Can I Buy a CPR Barrier Devices?

CPR Barrier Devices are easy to find. You won’t usually find them in a physical store, but they are readily available online from several sellers such as Laerdal or Amazon. Sometimes you can also buy them when you register for or show up to a CPR class.

Keychain masks and CPR masks are relatively cheap ranging from $5-15. Many people choose to have both and keep one on their key ring and the other in their car. It’s a small investment considering the life that could be saved by one.

If you have questions about barrier devices, what kind to get, or where to buy them, please let us know in the comments below. Also, we’d like to hear if you prefer using face shields or pocket masks.


Prime Medical Training provides life-saving training taught by real emergency responders. You can view our current locations where we have regularly scheduled classes, or request for us to do on-site training at your location.

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