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Living With Respiratory Failure

One of the main goals of treating respiratory failure is to treat the underlying cause of the condition. However, sometimes it's hard to cure or control the underlying cause. Thus, respiratory failure may last for weeks or even years. This is called chronic respiratory failure.

Oxygen therapy and other treatments can help you breathe easier. However, your oxygen and carbon dioxide levels still may not be normal. Thus, you may have one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Rapid breathing
  • Tiredness and confusion

These symptoms may go away within a few weeks or last longer. Talk with your doctor about how to deal with these symptoms, and read the tips below.

Ongoing Care

If you have respiratory failure, see your doctor for ongoing medical care. Your doctor may refer you to pulmonary rehabilitation (rehab).

Rehab can involve exercise training, education, and counseling. Your rehab team might include doctors, nurses, and other specialists. They'll work with you to create a program that meets your needs.

If you smoke, quit. Talk to your doctor about programs and products that can help you quit smoking. Also, try to avoid secondhand smoke.

If you have trouble quitting smoking on your own, consider joining a support group. Many hospitals, workplaces, and community groups offer classes to help people quit smoking.

If you're on oxygen therapy, don't smoke. Oxygen isn't explosive, but it can worsen a fire. In the presence of oxygen, a small fire can quickly get out of control. Also, the cylinder that compressed oxygen gas comes in can explode when exposed to heat.

For more information about how to quit smoking, go to the Health Topics Smoking and Your Heart article. Although this resource focuses on heart health, it includes basic information about how to quit smoking.

Emotional Issues and Support

Living with respiratory failure may cause fear, anxiety, depression, and stress. Talk about how you feel with your health care team. Talking to a professional counselor also can help. If you're very depressed, your doctor may recommend medicines or other treatments that can improve your quality of life.

Joining a patient support group may help you adjust to living with respiratory failure. You can see how other people who have the same symptoms have coped with them. Talk to your doctor about local support groups or check with an area medical center.

Support from family and friends also can help relieve stress and anxiety. Let your loved ones know how you feel and what they can do to help you.

Prepare for Emergencies

If you have chronic respiratory failure, knowing when and where to seek help for your symptoms is important. You should seek emergency care if you have severe symptoms, such as trouble catching your breath or talking.

Call your doctor if you notice that your symptoms are worsening or if you have new signs and symptoms. Your doctor may change or adjust your treatments to relieve and treat symptoms.

Keep phone numbers handy for your doctor, hospital, and someone who can take you for medical care. You also should have on hand directions to the doctor's office and hospital and a list of all the medicines you're taking.

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Last Updated: December 19, 2011