There is nothing more frustrating than having a medical emergency and not knowing to what equipment you or a loved one are attached. This is especially frustrating given the misconceptions that surround some equipment commonly used in a hospital.
What is the breathing machine called?
In a hospital, there are two ways doctors help a patient to breathe. If you are not having difficulty with breathing mechanics but are not moving enough air to be comfortable, you will likely be given oxygen through a mask or a nasal cannula. However, if oxygen does not work or if you stop breathing altogether, doctors will insert a tube down your throat and connect you to a ventilator. This assisted breathing machine does the mechanical work of breathing to ensure your body has enough oxygen.
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How does a breathing machine work?
To understand how a ventilator works, you first need to understand a little about how breathing works. When you inhale, air enters your nose or mouth and travels along your airways into your lungs. There, blood vessels filter the oxygen from the air and deliver it to your body while carbon dioxide from your blood is transferred into your lungs. When you exhale, that carbon dioxide travels out of the body through the airways and out of your nose or mouth. In an emergency situation or during surgery when your breathing is compromised, a tube is inserted into your mouth, past your vocal cords, and down your throat. The end of the tube is then secured in the mouth and hooked up to a ventilator. The breathing support machine then uses positive pressure to move air mixed with oxygen into your lungs. You will generally exhale on your own, but the ventilator can do that for you as well.
True or False – Once you go on a machine that breathes for you, you never go off.
Most of the time, false. Ventilators are commonly used for surgical procedures where general anesthesia is used. This helps anesthesiologists control your oxygen levels during a procedure. You may even find someone temporarily on a breathing machine after surgery if the doctor feels it is necessary. In both of these cases, patients are taken off ventilators when doctors feel they can breathe effectively on their own. However, there are times when a ventilator may become a more permanent fixture in someone’s life. In these cases, doctors will sometimes insert a tube directly into the throat (tracheotomy) of the patient to allow them to wake up and talk or move around while still having the assisted breathing machine hooked up. Even life support breathing machines are only used until the patient’s status changes. Ultimately, the goal in every hospital is to help the patient return home. Doctors and respiratory therapists work with even the most severely injured patients breathe on their own, making the ventilator unnecessary.
Even though ventilators seem a little scary, they are a necessary part of ensuring the health and safety of every patient in a hospital.