Pressure sores are a significant health risk for people with limited mobility. Prevention or treatment is essential often via the use of an alternating pressure mattress. With a plethora of alternating pressure low air loss mattresses on the market all claiming to be effective, how does the average consumer know which one to purchase?

Most alternating pressure mattresses have similar features:

- Offer alternating pressure and low air loss therapies
- Support up to 350 lbs
- Adjustable comfort settings
- Adjustable cycle time.
- Alternating and static modes and more
Yet for all the similarities there is a significant difference in the quality and effectiveness of the mattress systems.

With the institution of Competitive Bidding, the prices paid by Medicare and insurance for Durable Medical Equipment was greatly affected. To meet that price point, manufacturers of Medical Mattresses sourced imported mattresses and pumps constructed from inexpensive parts. This greatly diminished both the reliability and effectiveness of these systems. Pressure ulcers can develop in hours, therefore, the reliability of your system is incredibly important.

There are two main components to an alternating pressure mattress system, mattress, and the pump.

Differences in the Mattress.

- BLADDERS: The main difference can be found in the material used to construct the bladder. The bladders of many low-cost mattress systems are made from a combination of Nylon and PVC. This combination is not durable and prone to failure ie. air leaks leaving the patient at great risk for developing pressure ulcers or bottoming out. A high-quality mattress bladder is made from self-sealing TPU Thermoplastic Polyurethane. This material is far more durable and its self-sealing capability helps to prevent leakage.

- HOSING: It is essential to have non-kinking hoses. This prevents the interruption of air-flow to the bladders. The hosing on lesser quality mattresses are prone to kinking

- STATIC AIR BASE: to prevent bottoming out. Many mattress systems either do not have a static base or the base is made from foam.

- COVER: The mattress cover has many functions and features including the prevention of shearing and friction injuries, promote low air loss therapy, fluid proof, anti-microbial, anti-bacterial and fire retardant. The cover should have a waterfall flap to prevent fluid intrusion through the zipper. Many inexpensive mattresses lack these features.

Differences in the Pump
The pump adjusts the pressure, comfort and alternating pressure cycle timing of the system. These are the most essential therapeutic functions. The construction of the pump and quality of the internal parts greatly affect performance, reliability, and longevity. Without quality parts ie. metal compressors, high-quality electronics, and timing motors the mattress may not be able to be properly adjusted. Therefore the difference in the pressure at the pumps lowest setting that supports 100 lbs may only be marginally different than the pressure at the pumps highest setting that supports 350 lbs. providing improper therapy. Coupled with improper alternating cycle timing of substandard timing motors, this can lead to developing a pressure sore.

Choosing a quality system comes down to asking these questions:
- Was the mattress made for competitive bidding?
- Is the system made in the US?
- How long has the system been on the market?
- What material are the bladders made from?
- Are the pump parts metal or plastic?
- Is the pump loud (this is indicative of a poorly made pump)
- Is the mattress used in a hospital setting or only for consumers?
- What happens if the system fails? How do I get service and who do I call?

Why are some alternating pressure mattresses $1,000 - $3,000 and others $200 - $400? The differences between alternating pressure mattresses are vast. Be aware that most low-cost systems are unreliable and can negatively impact a person's health or fail to function for its intended purpose of preventing and healing a bed sore. A bed sore can occur within hours. With the average cost of treatment between $20,000 - $40,000 per incidence and over 60,000 people die every year from pressure sores in treatment facilities, it is essential to know what questions to ask and the differences between alternating pressure mattress.