Is Acute Respiratory Failure?
Acute respiratory failure occurs when fluid builds up in the air
sacs in your lungs. When that happens, your lungs can’t release oxygen into
your blood. In turn, your organs can’t get enough oxygen-rich blood to
function. You can also develop acute respiratory failure if your lungs can’t
remove carbon dioxide from your blood.
Respiratory failure happens when the capillaries in your air sacs
can’t properly exchange carbon dioxide for oxygen. The condition can be acute
or chronic. Acute respiratory failure causes you to experience immediate
symptoms from not having enough oxygen in your body. In most cases, this
failure may lead to death if it’s not treated quickly.
of Acute Respiratory Failure
The two types of acute and chronic respiratory failure are hypoxemic
and hypercapnic. Both conditions can trigger serious complications.
Hypoxemic respiratory failure means that you don’t have enough
oxygen in your blood but your levels of carbon dioxide are close to normal.
Hypercapnic respiratory failure means there’s too much carbon
dioxide in your blood and near normal or not enough oxygen.
Causes Acute Respiratory Failure?
Acute respiratory failure has several different causes:
When something lodges in your throat, you may have trouble
getting enough oxygen into your lungs.
An injury that impairs or compromises your respiratory system can
adversely affect the amount of oxygen in your blood. For instance, an injury to
the spinal cord or brain can immediately affect your breathing. The brain tells
the lungs to breathe. If the brain can’t relay messages due to injury or
damage, the lungs can’t continue to function properly.
An injury to the ribs or chest can also hamper the breathing
process. These injuries can impair your ability to inhale enough oxygen into
Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS)
Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is a serious condition
characterized by low oxygen in the blood. ARDS affects you if you already have
an underlying health problem such as pneumonia, pancreatitis (inflammation of
the pancreas), or heart attack. It can occur while you’re in the hospital being
treated for your underlying condition.
Drug or Alcohol Abuse
If you overdose on drugs or drink too much alcohol, you can
impair brain function and hinder your brain’s ability to tell your lungs to
breathe in or exhale.
Inhaling toxic chemicals, smoke, or fumes can also cause acute
respiratory failure. These chemicals may injure or damage the tissues of your
lungs, including the air sacs and capillaries.
A stroke occurs when your brain experiences tissue death or
damage on one or both sides of the brain. Often, it affects only one side.
Although stroke does present some warning signs, such as slurred speech or
confusion, it typically occurs quickly. If you have a stroke, you may lose your
ability to breathe properly.
Is at Risk for Acute Respiratory Failure?
You may be at risk for acute respiratory failure if you:
- smoke tobacco products
- drink alcohol excessively
- have a family history of respiratory disease or
- sustain an injury to the spine, brain, or chest
- have chronic (long-term) respiratory problems,
such as cancer of the lungs, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or
Are the Symptoms of Acute Respiratory Failure?
The symptoms vary according to how healthy you are. Most people
with acute failure of the lungs and low oxygen levels will experience:
- an inability to breathe
- bluish coloration in the skin, fingertips, or
- rapid, shallow
- racing heart
- profuse sweating
Your heart rate may increase when your levels of carbon dioxide
are high. You may be confused about your surroundings, who you are, and who others
around you are.
Acute Respiratory Failure
Acute respiratory failure requires immediate medical attention.
You may receive oxygen to help you breathe and to prevent tissue death in your
organs and brain.
After your doctor stabilizes you, they will take certain steps to
diagnose you, such as:
- perform a physical exam
- ask you questions about your family or personal
- check your body’s oxygen and carbon dioxide
levels level with a pulse oximetry device and an arterial blood gas test
- order a chest X-ray to look for abnormalities in
Acute Respiratory Failure
Treatment usually addresses any underlying conditions you may
have. Your doctor will then treat your respiratory failure with a variety of options.
- Your doctor may prescribe pain medications or
other medicines to help you breathe better.
- For severe cases, a tracheostomy, an operation
that creates an artificial airway in the windpipe, may be necessary.
- You may receive oxygen via an oxygen tank or
ventilator to help you breathe better. Portable air tanks are available to go
home with you if your condition requires one.
Can I Expect in the Long Term?
You’ll see improvement in your lung function if you get
appropriate treatment for your underlying condition. You may also require
pulmonary rehabilitation, which includes exercise therapy, education, and
counseling. Acute respiratory failure can become a long-term condition without
the right treatment. It’s important to seek emergency medical care if you’re
experiencing the symptoms of respiratory failure.