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A medical ventilator is a machine that helps a person breathe. Medical ventilators, which are also referred to as mechanical ventilators, are used during surgeries that require the patient to be asleep. Medical ventilators are also used when a person has a condition that prevents effective breathing. Various conditions can cause breathing difficulties, including respiratory illnesses, head injuries, cardiac conditions, and drug overdoses.
Air and supplemental oxygen is forced into the lungs through a ventilator. The ventilator helps patients improve oxygen levels in the lungs. It can also help remove carbon dioxide from the lungs and decrease how hard someone has to work to breathe.
Mechanical ventilation can be used to provide complete support, which means the ventilator is doing on the breathing for the patient. It can also be used to assist with breathing. This means the patient is still breathing on his own, but the ventilator is providing some assistance.
Before a person is placed on a medical ventilator, a breathing tube will be inserted into the airway, usually through the mouth. In some cases, a tracheotomy is performed instead. An incision is made in the trachea, and a tracheotomy tube is placed. This is usually done if long-term ventilator support is needed.
Ventilators can be set to different modes, which provide varied levels of support. A respiratory rate and a percentage of oxygen can be set. Mechanical ventilation is most often used in hospitals and can be complex.
The length of time a person stays on a medical ventilator depends on their condition. Patients who are only on a ventilator for surgery are usually extubated, which means the breathing tube and ventilator are removed. People with medical conditions that cause breathing problems may need to stay on a medical ventilator until the condition is treated and breathing improves.
Some individuals may need a mechanical ventilator for the rest of their lives. Conditions such as certain spinal cord injuries and severe brain damage may require continuous mechanical ventilation. Ventilators intended for home use are available.
Although a mechanical ventilator may be needed to save someone’s life, there can be complications. Some complications are caused by the tube in the airway and include damage to the vocal cords and a sinus infection. The ventilator delivers a volume of air and oxygen into the lungs, which may also cause complications, such as oxygen toxicity, injury to the lungs, and a drop in blood pressure.