For patients who are unable to breathe on their own, mechanical ventilation is used to provide life-sustaining oxygen. Ventilation is a process that requires the diligent care of a medical team and a weaning process.
If you have a family member or loved one on a ventilator, here are some things you should know:
1. What is a Ventilator?
A ventilator is a machine that supports breathing, and is used mainly in a hospital or rehabilitation setting. Medical issues or conditions that make it hard for the patient to breathe necessitate that a ventilator is used to aid the breathing process.
2. How Does a Ventilator Work?
A ventilator helps get oxygen into the lungs of the patient and removes carbon dioxide (a waste gas that can be toxic). It is used for life support, but does not treat disease or medical conditions.
3. Who Needs a Ventilator?
Many conditions, such as pneumonia, COPD, brain injuries, and strokes require the use of a ventilator. If you have a loved one with a disease or condition that impairs their lung function, a ventilator will be employed. The use of a ventilator is also common when someone is under anesthesia during general surgery. A patient may not even know they were connected to a ventilator after the completion of the surgery or medical procedure.
4. Risks of Being on a Ventilator
Patients on ventilators run a higher risk of developing pneumonia because of bacteria that enters through the breathing tube. It can also make it difficult for them to cough and clear airways of irritants that can cause infections.
5. Eating While on a Ventilator
The breathing tube will prevent the patient from eating normally, so a different tube that provides nutrients, may be inserted into their vein. Patients who are on long-term ventilation may require a feeding tube directly inserted into the nose or mouth, or through a hole made in the stomach.
6. When Sedation is Used
Sedation is often used for patients on long-term ventilation, although there’s plenty of debate in medical circles concerning the over-use of sedation. The use of sedation often depends on the patient; a patient who is calm during normal life is usually calm on a ventilator while in an ICU unit.
7. A Ventilator Restricts Your Movement
A patient’s activity and movement are significantly limited while on a ventilator. While they may be able to sit up in bed or in a chair, their mobility is otherwise limited.
8. Your Care Will Involve a Team Approach
The medical team that closely monitors patients on a ventilator includes: doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, X-ray technicians, and more.
9. Will the Ventilator be Painful?
There’s usually little or no pain when on a ventilator.
10. Ventilator Weaning Process
Weaning is the process of taking someone off of a ventilator, so that they may begin to breathe on their own. The process usually begins with a short trial, in which they’re still connected to the ventilator, but allowed to breathe on their own. The ventilator is removed once it’s clear that the patient can breathe on their own.