Getting the Right Medical Room Pressure

Welcome to All Sensors “Put the Pressure on Us” blog. This blog brings out pressure sensor aspects in a variety of applications inspired by headlines, consumer and industry requirements, market research, government activities, and you.

Getting the Right Medical Room Pressure

With airborne infectious diseases that can easily spread from one person to another, such as the COVID-19 virus, isolation is critical. In a hospital or clinic, an isolation room needs negative pressure to have airflow into the room and avoid pathogens, or germs, from escaping. In addition to viruses, other undesirable contaminants to keep away from the rest of the population and sterile equipment in a hospital include bacteria, fungi, yeasts, molds, pollens, gases, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), small particles and chemicals.

The airflow to create and maintain the negative pressure (vacuum) in the room requires a consistent pressure differential of about 0.01 inch water gauge (in. w.g.) or 2.5 Pascals (Pa).

According to the Facility Guidelines Institute’s (FGI’s) most recent 2018 FGI Guidelines ANSI/ASHRAE/ASHE Standard 170-2017, other rooms that should be negatively pressurized include:

  • Emergency Department Public Waiting Areas
  • Emergency Department Decontamination
  • Radiology Waiting Rooms
  • Triage
  • Bathrooms
  • Airborne Infection Isolation (AII) Rooms
  • Most Laboratory Work Areas
  • Autopsy Rooms
  • Soiled Workrooms or Soiled Holding Rooms
  • Soiled or Decontamination Rooms in Sterile Processing Department
  • Soiled Linen Sorting and Storage
  • Janitors’ Closets

In contrast, protecting the patient and sterile medical and surgical supplies in an operating room requires positive pressure to keep undesirable contaminants outside. The positive pressure room is achieved by pumping in filtered, clean air.

Isolation (Low) vs. operating room (High) pressure

Isolation (Low) vs. operating room (High) pressure.
Source: Minnesota Department of Health

In fact, some portable, headgear-mounted air purifying respirator systems use positive pressure to protect the wearer.

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The Pressure in Hospital Isolation Rooms

Welcome to All Sensors “Put the Pressure on Us” blog. This blog brings out pressure sensor aspects in a variety of applications inspired by headlines, consumer and industry requirements, market research, government activities and you. In this blog we’ll be discussing pressure in hospitals.

The Pressure in Hospital Isolation Rooms

Infectious diseases and chronically ill patients require special air handling equipment in hospital isolation rooms. The isolation could dictate either positive or negative pressure in the room.

An isolation room at negative pressure has a lower pressure than that of adjacent areas. This keeps air from flowing out of the isolation room and into adjacent rooms or areas. In contrast, higher (positive) air pressure in the isolation room than in the adjacent corridor or anteroom prevents transmission from the outside environment to severely immunosuppressed patients.

Historically, the transmission of tuberculosis has been a concern for many years.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published and updated “Guidelines for Preventing the Transmission of Mycobacterium tuberculosis in Health-Care Settings, 2005” a little over a decade ago and identified the need for a negative pressure of at least 0 .001 inch of water to prevent spreading the disease. More recently, Avian Bird Flu H5N1, another highly contagious disease, has raised the need for isolation and negative pressure control. A pandemic disaster or chemical warfare could further increase the number of negative pressure isolation rooms/wards required in a community.

Monitoring the room to outside differential pressure can be performed with manual techniques such as visually observing the direction of airflow using smoke tubes or with a pressure gauge. Both of these approaches require the person monitoring the room pressure to be at the room. With today’s lower pressure and cost-effective MEMS sensors, remote monitoring can easily be implemented so an expert (or experts) responsible for ensuring the positive pressure does not have to physically close to the patient’s room – and receives the warning of a problem in real-time.


A pressure monitoring gauge is part of the isolation room equipment to monitor airflow. Source:

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Do you have a pressure sensing question? Let me know and I’ll address it in an upcoming blog.
-Han Mai, Senior Marketing Specialist, All Sensors Corporation ([email protected])