Treatment for respiratory failure depends on whether the condition is acute (short-term) or chronic (ongoing) and its severity. Treatment also depends on the underlying cause of the respiratory failure.
Acute respiratory failure can be a medical emergency. It often is treated in an intensive care unit at a hospital. Chronic respiratory failure often can be treated at home. If chronic respiratory failure is severe, your doctor may recommend treatment in a long-term care center.
One of the main goals of treating respiratory failure is to get oxygen to your lungs and other organs and remove carbon dioxide from your body. Another goal is to treat the underlying cause of the condition.
Oxygen Therapy and Ventilator Support
If you have respiratory failure, you may receive oxygen therapy. Extra oxygen is given through a nasal cannula (two small plastic tubes, or prongs, that are placed in both nostrils) or through a mask that fits over your nose and mouth.
The illustration shows how a nasal cannula and portable oxygen container are attached to a patient.
Oxygen also can be given through a tracheostomy (TRA-ke-OS-to-me). This is a surgically made hole that goes through the front of your neck and into your windpipe. A breathing tube, also called a trach tube, is placed in the hole to help you breathe.
Figure A shows a side view of the neck and the correct placement of a trach tube in the trachea, or windpipe. Figure B shows an external view of a patient who has a tracheostomy.
If the oxygen level in your blood doesn't increase, or if you're still having trouble breathing, your doctor may recommend a ventilator. A ventilator is a machine that helps you breathe. It blows air—or air with increased amounts of oxygen—into your airways and then your lungs.
The illustration shows a standard setup for a ventilator in a hospital room. The ventilator pushes warm, moist air (or air with increased oxygen) to the patient. Exhaled air flows away from the patient.
Your doctor will adjust the ventilator as needed. This will help your lungs get the right amount of oxygen. It also can prevent the pressure from the ventilator from injuring your lungs. You'll use the ventilator until you can breathe on your own.
Other Treatments To Help You Breathe
Noninvasive positive pressure ventilation (NPPV) and a rocking bed are two methods that can help you breathe better while you sleep. These methods are very useful for people who have chronic respiratory failure.
NPPV is a treatment that uses mild air pressure to keep your airways open while you sleep. CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) is one type of NPPV.
NPPV is done using a machine. You wear a mask or other device that fits over your nose or your nose and mouth. A tube connects the mask to the machine, and the machine blows air into the tube.
A rocking bed consists of a...