What Is a Ventilator and When Is It Necessary to Own One?

Updated on September 17, 2019

More than half of the patients admitted to the ICU need a ventilator within 24 hours for various reasons. This can be because of compromised lung function, difficulty in breathing, acute respiratory failure, and so on. In short, it’s needed every time a patient needs help with breathing. 

Some people often use the term life support to refer to ventilators. While it does help people live when their bodies can’t, life support can refer to other machines, as well. But we’ll explore the function of a ventilator in particular.

Then, what is a ventilator and why you need one? Keep on reading to learn more about it.

What Is a Ventilator

A ventilator is a machine that moves air in and out of the lungs. It may support breathing or substitute it in case the patient can’t breathe on their own. It helps move the diaphragm and the rib and abdominal muscles to allow air in or out.

It has different settings depending on the amount of support the patient needs. You can set the mode, breath rate, inspiratory time, and more. The doctor orders the setting based on the person’s breathing problem and general health.

People with an injury on the spinal cord, for instance, may no longer have the ability to breathe on their own. Thus, they’ll need the ventilator to do it for them. Other people may only need assistance from time-to-time. 

Reasons You Need a Ventilator

What are the possible scenarios in which you might need a home ventilator? Don’t fret, here are 5 crucial reasons to consider:

1. A Spinal Injury

The spinal cord helps control a number of the body’s basic functions, including hunger, blood pressure, body temperature, and breathing. An injury to the spinal cord thus has a possibility to affect any of its functions.

An injury in the neck area, in particular, can cause the person to have trouble breathing. Unless the injury heals, he/she may need a machine to help with breathing. 

Because the spinal cord can’t send signals to the diaphragm and the rib and abdominal muscles, the machine moves these muscles for the patient.

2. After Any Surgery

Even if the surgery is a success, it may still have lingering complications that may hinder the patient’s ability to breathe. If the patient has a high risk of breathing problems, he/she should have a ventilator connected.

A patient with poor lung function even before surgery also needs one as he/she may not breathe well enough afterward. Trauma or infection can also be reasons why a patient may not be able to breathe well.

In general, if a patient is on the ventilator pre-surgery, he/she will likely remain to be on the ventilator post-surgery.

3. Ventilator Weaning

In most cases, doctors can remove the ventilator off patients at once. However, if the patient has been relying on it for a long time or any other reason at all, he/she may need weaning.

It’s the process of removing a patient from the ventilator slowly by adjusting the settings now and then. Over time, the ventilator should do less work and the patient more work in gradual. 

The process can last days or even weeks, depending on their breathing issues. The goal is that the patient should be able to breathe well without the ventilator.

Doctors can test it by using the CPAP mode on the machine. In this setting, the patient does the work while the ventilator stands by to assist if needed.

4. Part-Time

Not all patients need to be on the ventilator all the time as long-term use of it can cause permanent damage to the windpipe or vocal cords. If a patient does need one for the long-term, a surgeon instead creates an opening in the neck, allowing the tube to access the windpipe through that rather than the mouth.

Sometimes, though, patients only need full support at certain times of the day. For example, they may need full assistance during the night so that they may sleep without worry. During the day, they can breathe on their own on CPAP setting in case they need help.

Some people don’t need the CPAP setting at all, but they do need to have access to a breathing machine if need be. In such instances, they can use a portable ventilator.

5. Comatose Patients

Comatose patients don’t need to stay in the hospital. At the doctor’s discretion, they can move back in their home, where their family can care for them 24/7. However, this requires that you have the proper equipment in your home, including a breathing machine.

This still depends on the abilities a comatose patient has managed to keep. Some can still breathe on their own, but others can’t. For the latter, a ventilator is a must-have in your home – one that can perform the breathing needs of the patient.

The doctor can best advise which you should get for the patient. A portable medical breathing machine may not be able to provide greater needs.

Caring for a Patient Connected to a Ventilator

Patient care in this instance focuses on preventing infection and irritation. As such, a nurse or a caregiver must perform mouth care regularly. They clean and moisten the mouth, which is often dry.

They may also suction secretions from the mouth. The patient can’t cough this up themselves and it has a risk of draining into the lungs, which can cause pneumonia.

The tape or strap that keeps the tube in place needs constant replacing, as well, as it gets dirty over time. While doing so, they also move the tube from one side of the mouth to the other to prevent skin irritations.

Get a Ventilator for You or Your Loved One

These are only the possible reasons why you might need a ventilator. There are other reasons not on this list why you might need one. If you’re not sure, though, ask your doctor what he/she thinks. 

For more medical tips, read our other articles to keep your body healthy and safe.

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