The average person breathes in and out a staggering 22,000 times a day without even thinking about it. But when you can’t, a ventilator might be your only solution. It’s important to note, a ventilator isn’t a treatment, it is critical life support.
Ventilators work by getting fresh oxygen into the airways and ultimately into the lungs, while also removing toxic carbon dioxide from the lungs. This happens in a few steps.
First, a breathing tube must be placed into the patient’s windpipe. It may be inserted through the mouth or nose. This tube will serve as the passageway for air and oxygen to move from the ventilator into the lungs. One end of the tube is placed in the windpipe, while the other is attached to the ventilator.
Once connected, the ventilator uses pressure to blow a mixture of oxygen and air down the tube and into the lungs. Typically, the patient has the ability to breathe out on his or her own, but if that is not the case, the ventilator will exhale for the patient.
The ventilator can be scheduled to “breathe” for the patient a set number of times each minute, or it can be set so the patient can trigger the machine to deliver air. If the patient fails to trigger the machine after a set period of time, the ventilator will automatically blow air into the breathing tube.
When a patient gets to the point of needing a ventilator, it can be scary. Our bodies experience a suffocating or drowning feeling when they can’t get an optimal oxygen supply. A ventilator can give you this relief and help you breathe better while recovering from an illness—and for some, it may be the only way for them to have a fighting chance against it.