One of the many treatment options required by patients severely affected by Covid-19 involved being put on a ventilator. The machines became necessary when the virus greatly impaired lung function to the point that insufficient levels of oxygenated blood were not circulating throughout the body. Thus, patients required external oxygen resources that often included mechanical ventilation. Statistics indicate that more than 28% of patients hospitalized with the virus required supplemental breathing assistance.
When Ventilation Becomes Necessary
Ventilators, also known as breathing machines or mechanical ventilation, are used in hospitals by trained respiratory therapists and physicians. The machines elevate and maintain a patient’s blood oxygen levels in the event that the individual’s lungs are not able to breathe effectively. Some of the many situations when supplemental oxygen or ventilation becomes necessary to include:
- Infectious processes that lead to acute respiratory distress syndrome or ARDS
- Asthma attacks
- Cardiac arrest
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- Collapsed lung
- Degenerative neurological disorders
- Drug overdose
- During surgical procedures
- Spinal cord injuries
- Traumatic brain injury
- Underdeveloped lungs in neonates
How Ventilation Works
Ventilators force oxygenated air into the lungs. Non-invasive ventilation involves wearing a plastic fitted mask over the nose and mouth. A tube connects to the mask on one end and to the machine on the other. In severe respiratory distress cases, ventilation may require the placement of a tube inserted through the throat and into the lungs.
Under these circumstances, the patient is typically heavily sedated to reduce stress and to ensure the tube remains in place. When mechanical ventilation becomes necessary, the machine is designed for inhaling and exhaling the patient according to predetermined settings. Patients requiring ventilation for extended lengths of time require a tracheostomy. The procedure involves inserting the ventilation tube through an incision in the neck and directly into the trachea.
Mechanical Ventilation Risks
As with many other medical treatments, ventilation is not without possible risks or side effects, which may include:
- Sinus infections
- Pulmonary edema secondary to inflammation or trapped fluid
- Blood clot and thrombosis formation from immobility
- Damaged vocal cords
- Damaged lungs from excessive pressure or oxygen levels