If your doctor wants you to be kept away, or isolated, from other patients while you receive medical care, you may be in a special hospital room, called an isolation room, to keep you separate from other people.
This may be done because you have an infection that can be spread to others or because your condition makes you more easily infected by others.
How do isolation rooms work?
Negative air pressure
Sometimes isolation rooms use negative air pressure. This helps prevent airborne diseases (such as tuberculosis or flu) from escaping the room and infecting other people. A machine pulls air into the room. Then it filters the air before moving it outside.
In a negative air pressure room, you may be able to feel air being sucked into the room under a closed door or through a slightly opened window.
Positive air pressure
In other cases, such as when a person has a weakened immune system, positive air pressure may be used. Clean, filtered air is constantly pumped into the room. This is done to keep contagious diseases out of the room.
With this type of isolation room, you may be able to feel air blowing out of the room under a closed door.
What can you expect while in isolation?
Everyone who enters or leaves the room needs to wash his or her hands thoroughly.
You may be allowed to have visitors. But all visitors and hospital workers must wear masks, gowns, and gloves. In some cases, only certain family members may be allowed to visit. Children may not be allowed. People who have colds, the flu, or other illnesses won't be allowed.
The door to your room may need to stay closed at all times.
You may need to stay in your room, except for tests or procedures that can't be done in your room.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2007). Guideline for isolation precautions: Preventing transmission of infectious agents in healthcare settings 2007. Available online: http://www.cdc.gov/hicpac/2007IP/2007isolationPrecautions.html.
Current as of: May 27, 2020
Author: Healthwise Staff Medical Review: Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine