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Understanding Ventilators

A ventilator is a machine that helps a person breathe. If someone you care about is on a ventilator, you may have questions.

Why a Ventilator?

  • A ventilator is needed when a person can’t breathe well on his or her own.

  • Sometimes, breathing takes too much of a person’s energy. If so, the ventilator can take over and do the work.

  • Ventilators are common during or after certain surgeries and for lung illnesses.

How Long Is It Used?

  • A ventilator can be used for a few hours to a few months or years. How long it is used depends on why it is needed.

  • If the ventilator is needed for more than a few weeks, the vocal cords can become damaged. To protect the vocal cords, the breathing tube may be placed into an opening made in the patient’s throat.

Keep Your Loved One Comfortable

  • A health care provider is always nearby to check on your loved one.

  • If awake, the patient will be able to hear, but not speak. Writing pads and other tools can help him or her communicate.

  • Know that medication given to help the patient relax can also make him or her confused and sleepy.

What You May Notice

  • A breathing tube carries oxygen from the ventilator to the patient. This tube enters the patient’s mouth or nose.

  • Monitors, lights, and alarms alert care providers to changes or problems.

  • Additional tubes that may give the patient fluid, nutrition, and medication. These tubes may also help with other tasks, such as emptying the patient's bladder .

  • Restraints may hold the patient’s wrists. These keep the patient from accidentally pulling out tubes. But they don’t stop him or her from moving or using the button to call for a care provider.

  • The patient may be given medication that prevents movement. This helps conserve his or her energy. Medication can also help him or her relax and sleep.

How You Can Help

  • Try to keep your visits short.

  • A person on a ventilator can catch some illnesses more easily. Don’t visit if you’re sick.

  • At times, you may be asked to wear a mask over your mouth and nose.

  • Follow any instructions the health care provider gives you.

  • If you have concerns or questions, ask the health care provider.

 

 
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