Ventilators normally don't cause pain. The breathing tube in your airway may cause some discomfort. It also affects your ability to talk and eat.
If your breathing tube is a trach tube, you may be able to talk. (A trach tube is put directly into your windpipe through a hole in the front of your neck.)
Instead of food, your health care team may give you nutrients through a tube inserted into a vein. If you're on a ventilator for a long time, you'll likely get food through a nasogastric, or feeding, tube. The tube goes through your nose or mouth or directly into your stomach or small intestine through a surgically made hole.
A ventilator greatly restricts your activity and also limits your movement. You may be able to sit up in bed or in a chair, but you usually can't move around much.
If you need to use a ventilator long term, you may be given a portable machine. This machine allows you to move around and even go outside, although you need to bring your ventilator with you.
Sometimes the ventilator is set so that you can trigger the machine to blow air into your lungs. But, if you fail to trigger it within a certain amount of time, the machine automatically blows air to keep you breathing.
While you're on a ventilator, your health care team will closely watch you. The team may include doctors, nurses, and respiratory therapists. You may need periodic chest x rays and blood tests to check the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide (blood gases) in your body.
These tests help your health care team find out how well the ventilator is working for you. Based on the test results, they may adjust the ventilator's airflow and other settings as needed.
Also, a nurse or respiratory therapist will suction your breathing tube from time to time. This helps remove mucus from your lungs. Suctioning will cause you to cough, and you may feel short of breath for several seconds. You may get extra oxygen during suctioning to relieve shortness of breath.
The NHLBI updates Health Topics articles on a biennial cycle based on a thorough review of research findings and new literature. The articles also are updated as needed if important new research is published. The date on each Health Topics article reflects when the content was originally posted or last revised.