There is nothing quite as frightening as losing your ability to breathe effectively. Whether you are experiencing breathing problems due to an illness, accident or chronic condition, panic sets in quickly as the body attempts to take in enough oxygen to survive. Fortunately, hospitals and medical centers worldwide have access to the technology they need to make breathing a little easier.
What is a Ventilator?
A ventilator is a machine that makes breathing easier for people who are struggling to take in enough air. Using positive and negative pressure, ventilators move oxygen into and out of the lungs on behalf of the patient. Positive pressure pushes oxygen or room air through the airway and into the lungs. As soon as the positive pressure stops, natural negative pressure pushes air and carbon dioxide out of the lungs. The process continues either using a mask, nasal cannula or endotracheal tube, depending on the needs of the patient.
Why Would I Need a Ventilator?
Ventilators are generally used in one of three situations – when the patient is experiencing an illness or event that keeps them from breathing on their own when someone is in an accident, and their airway is compromised or during surgery as a precautionary measure.
- Illness – Severe respiratory illnesses like pneumonia and chronic conditions like Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD) may make breathing so difficult, a patient needs a ventilator to stay alive. However, cardiac “events,” stroke, or even severe asthma may also necessitate the short-term use of a ventilator.
- Accident – Two of the ABC’s of first aid involve moving oxygen into and out of a person’s body. “Airway” and “Breathing” are among the first things a first responder looks for when they assist someone who has been involved in an accident. If either of these is compromised, emergency protocols are used until emergency medical personnel can arrive on the scene and begin using ventilation to help the patient breathe a little easier. This may continue into the hospital and as long as the patient is experiencing problems breathing on their own.
- Surgery – Surgeries that involve general anesthesia often require placing the patient on a ventilator as well. Since anesthesia has been shown to compromise a person’s ability to breathe on their own, a ventilator is used as a precautionary measure.
Once I Go On a Ventilator, Will I Ever Come Off?
Most people who are placed on a ventilator use it temporarily as long as they are having difficulty breathing. Specialists known as respiratory therapists are trained to prescribe ventilator use and help patients wean their way off of a ventilator as they recover. Ventilators are also often used during surgery where a patient’s breathing may be compromised by anesthesia.
Once the patient is in recovery and breathing on their own, the ventilator is removed. In some cases, ventilators are used long-term for life support in patients who are otherwise healthy, who experience paralysis, or who may require long-term care in a care facility or rehabilitation center.