For respiratory conditions, COVID-19 included, older individuals are more likely to be placed on a ventilator. If you've heard the term being thrown around in the news, you might wonder: what's a ventilator? What are ventilators used for? How do they work? Are there any risks to being put on one?
This simple overview will answer all your questions and hopefully ease your worries.
What Are Ventilators?
Respiratory ventilators, also known as respirators or breathing machines, aid a patient's lungs in the breathing process. They're lifesaving devices for ill, injured, or sedated patients who are struggling to breathe or can't breathe at all.
Ventilators use pressure to blow oxygen into the lungs and remove excess carbon dioxide.
Breathing tubes, placed through the nose or mouth, connect the ventilator to a patient's body. The process of inserting the tubes is referred to as intubation. Under rare circumstances, the breathing tubes are placed through a cut-out hole in the neck.
Ventilators come with a few different components and safety features that make things easy for the doctor to monitor and control.
Ventilators Key to Breathing
So, what are ventilators used for? Ventilators treat a wide range of respiratory and lung-related conditions and can be used as a breathing aid during surgeries.
General anesthesia can interfere with a patient's ability to breathe, which makes ventilators a useful tool during shorter operations. Depending on the patient's reaction to the sedative and the type of surgery they've undergone, breathing tubes might be necessary during the recovery period.
Ventilators Essential for Certain Health Conditions
Ventilators help patients who are struggling to breathe independently, whether the cause stems from an injury, illness, or long-lasting conditions. Conditions that potentially require the use of a ventilator include:
- ALS, or Lou Gerhig's disease
- coma or loss of consciousness
- brain injury
- collapsed lung
- drug overdose
- Guillain-Barré syndrome
- lung infection
In the past few months, respirators are being used to treat COVID-19 patients with severe symptoms. Despite its risks, intubating patients has proven effective. For people experiencing severe respiratory issues, the use of a ventilator correlates with a lowered chance of morbidities and death.
Risks of Ventilator Use
Ventilators have their benefits, but they don't come without risks.
They can irritate a patient's lungs and make it difficult to cough. Respirators can also cause issues with the vocal cords, potentially damaging them. While uncommon, lung injury can occur, and other risks, such as skin infections and blood clots, can also emerge.
Things to Keep in Mind
If you're put on a ventilator, it's because a trained medical profession feels it's the best overall course for preserving your health. The process might be scary, but it's done to help, not harm you.
The process itself is simple. Sleeping pills and other medication will put you at ease, and doctors will carefully monitor your condition closely while you are on the ventilator.
Some people require to be on a ventilator for an extended period of time. In that case, the person will most likely require to be in some form of long-term care facility that provides full-time care.
For ventilator patients with an endotracheal tube, who typically cannot breathe independently, they typically will need full-time extended care.
Patients can have difficulties recovering from being taken off a ventilator. It can take several days, even weeks, for them to breathe well on their own.
There's good news, though—most people recover from the aftereffects and live the rest of their lives normally.
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