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What Are the Risks of Being on a Ventilator?

Infections

One of the most serious and common risks of being on a ventilator is pneumonia. The breathing tube that's put in your airway can allow bacteria to enter your lungs. As a result, you may develop ventilator-associated pneumonia (VAP).

The breathing tube also makes it hard for you to cough. Coughing helps clear your airways of lung irritants that can cause infections.

VAP is a major concern for people using ventilators because they're often already very sick. Pneumonia may make it harder to treat their other disease or condition.

VAP is treated with antibiotics. You may need special antibiotics if the VAP is caused by bacteria that are resistant to standard treatment.

Another risk of being on a ventilator is a sinus infection. This type of infection is more common in people who have endotracheal tubes. (An endotracheal tube is put into your windpipe through your mouth or nose.) Sinus infections are treated with antibiotics.

Other Risks

Using a ventilator also can put you at risk for other problems, such as:

  • Pneumothorax (noo-mo-THOR-aks). This is a condition in which air leaks out of the lungs and into the space between the lungs and the chest wall. This can cause pain and shortness of breath, and it may cause one or both lungs to collapse.
  • Lung damage. Pushing air into the lungs with too much pressure can harm the lungs.
  • Oxygen toxicity. High levels of oxygen can damage the lungs.

These problems may occur because of the forced airflow or high levels of oxygen from the ventilator.

Using a ventilator also can put you at risk for blood clots and serious skin infections. These problems tend to occur in people who have certain diseases and/or who are confined to bed or a wheelchair and must remain in one position for long periods.

Another possible problem is damage to the vocal cords from the breathing tube. If you find it hard to speak or breathe after your breathing tube is removed, let your doctor know.

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February 1, 2011