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What is a Ventilator and its Uses?

August 26, 2022 - Parul Saini, Webmedy Team

Ventilators pump air into the lungs to mimic or support breathing. In some cases, it is referred to as a vent or breathing machine. People who cannot breathe on their own require ventilators. It could be that they are under general anesthesia or suffering from an illness that affects their breathing.

Ventilators are available in a variety of types, each of which provides varying levels of support. The type a doctor chooses will depend on the patient's condition. Whether they are used in hospitals or ambulances, ventilators play an important role in saving lives. It is also possible to use them at home if someone needs long-term ventilation.

The purpose of this article is to provide insight into when and how ventilators are used, as well as what the risks are associated with them.

Who needs a Ventilator?

When a person is suffering from respiratory failure, ventilation is required. In this situation, a person cannot get enough oxygen and can't expel carbon dioxide properly. This can be a life-threatening condition. Many injuries and conditions can cause respiratory failure, including:

  • Head injury
  • Stroke
  • Lung disease
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Polio
  • Sudden cardiac arrest
  • Neonatal respiratory distress syndrome
  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)
  • Pneumonia
  • Sepsis

Some people with COVID-19 have severe difficulty breathing. It occurs only in people with critical illnesses, which account for around 5% of COVID-19 cases.

In addition, doctors also use ventilators for people who undergo surgery and will not be able to breathe on their own due to anesthesia.

Types of Ventilators

There are several types of ventilators based on the ways a person can receive ventilator support. These include:

  • Face mask ventilators
  • Mechanical ventilators
  • Manual resuscitator bags
  • Tracheostomy ventilators

Face mask ventilators are noninvasive. Mechanical and tracheostomy ventilators are invasive, which work via tubes that a doctor inserts through a hole in the neck that leads to the trachea, or windpipe. For some, a face mask ventilator may be sufficient to stabilize their condition. People who physically struggle to breathe independently may require mechanical ventilation.

Below, we have explained each type of ventilator and how they work.

  • Face mask Ventilator

    A face mask ventilator is a non-invasive way to support someone's ability to breathe and get enough oxygen in their blood. A person uses one by wearing a mask that covers their mouth and nose and allows air to flow into their airways and lungs.

    People with COVID-19 may use a face mask ventilator if they are having difficulty breathing or do not have sufficient oxygen levels. Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) and bi-level positive airway pressure (BiPAP) devices also operate via a face mask. People often use these for chronic conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, but some doctors may also use them for people with COVID-19.

  • Mechanical Ventilator

    Mechanical ventilators are machines that take over the breathing process entirely. Doctors use these when a person cannot breathe on their own.

    Mechanical ventilators work via a tube in a person's throat, pumping air into the lungs and transporting carbon dioxide away. A ventilator unit regulates the pressure, humidity, volume, and temperature of the air, depending on the controls that a doctor or respiratory therapist places. This allows healthcare professionals to control a person's breathing and oxygen levels.

    People with COVID-19 may need a mechanical ventilator if they are critically ill.

  • Manual Resuscitator Bags

    Manual resuscitator bags are pieces of equipment that allow people to control the airflow of their ventilator with their hands. These devices consist of an empty bag, or "bladder," that a person squeezes to pump air into the lungs.

    A person can attach one of these devices to a face mask ventilator, or, if they are intubated, a doctor can attach one to the tube in their throat. This can be useful as a temporary solution if a person on a mechanical ventilator needs to stop using it. For example, if there is a power outage, a person can use a manual resuscitator bag while waiting for the power to come back on.

  • Tracheostomy Ventilator

    People who have undergone a tracheostomy will require a ventilator. Tracheostomy is a procedure where a doctor creates an opening in the windpipe and inserts a tube, which allows air to flow in and out. This enables a person to breathe without using their nose or mouth.

    People who have undergone tracheostomies can also receive ventilator support through this opening. Instead of inserting a ventilator through the mouth, doctors insert it directly into the windpipe. People may require tracheostomies if they need mechanical ventilation for an extended period and need more time for rehabilitation.

    Others who suffer from illnesses like chronic lung disease or a neuromuscular problem that affects the breathing muscles may need tracheostomies for an extended period. Some people can take care of their tracheostomies at home.

What are the risks of using a Ventilator?

If you have a ventilator, your life may be saved. However, like other treatments, it can cause potential side effects. Here we have listed some most common risks related to ventilators:

  • Infections, such as sinus infections.
  • Airway blockage.
  • Vocal cord injury by intubation that lasts a long time.
  • When the lungs do not fully inflate, atelectasis develops, limiting the amount of oxygen that reaches the bloodstream.
  • Aspiration problem.
  • Lung injury can be caused by excessive oxygen or air pressure.
  • Pulmonary edema develops when fluid accumulates inside the lungs' air sacs.
  • There is a pneumothorax, which occurs when air leaks from the lungs into the space just outside of them, causing pain, shortness of breath, and in some cases, a complete collapse of the lungs.
  • Long-term resting in one position can cause bedsores or blood clots.

Doctors and nurses can take steps to reduce the likelihood of these complications. These steps include:

  • Closely monitoring people on ventilators for signs of complications.
  • Adjusting the air pressure and oxygen levels to match a patient's normal levels.
  • Wearing personal protective equipment to protect against viruses and prevent their spread to others.
  • Treating bacterial infections with antibiotics.


Ventilators are breathing apparatuses that support healthy lung function. They can assist you with your breathing when you're receiving treatment for or recovering from a disease or health condition. Ventilators can be a lifesaver and a critical component of medical support for patients of all ages, including infants and children.

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