Respiratory Failure
Respiratory Failure

Respiratory Failure Living With

If you have chronic respiratory failure, your symptoms may suddenly get worse. Call 9-1-1 for help if you suddenly have trouble breathing or talking.

Recovering from respiratory failure

As you recover from respiratory failure, it is important to follow your treatment plan, get regular follow-up care, and adopt healthy lifestyle changes.

  • Talk to your doctor about when you can resume normal activities. Your oxygen and carbon dioxide levels may take a while to return to a healthy range. Because of this, you may continue to have shortness of breath or other symptoms for a few weeks or longer. You may need to do daily activities more slowly.
  • Watch for warning signs of complications if you had to use a mechanical ventilator. Using a ventilator for a long time may hurt your lungs and windpipe. Learn more about the risks of being on a ventilator and what to watch for.  
  • Talk to your doctor about pulmonary rehabilitation. This is an exercise training, education, and counseling program that can help your lungs work better.

Prevent complications if you have chronic respiratory failure

If you have chronic respiratory failure, you will likely need ongoing care to prevent damage to your lungs and other organs. You may also have to carry a portable oxygen tank and a tube that goes into your nose, called a cannula, with you.

Your doctor may talk to you about ways to prevent complications.

  • Quit smoking. Talk to your healthcare provider about programs and products that can help you quit smoking. For more information about how to quit smoking, go to Smoking and Your Heart and Your Guide to a Healthy Heart. Although these resources focus on heart health, they include basic information about how to quit smoking. For free help and support to quit smoking, you may call the National Cancer Institute’s Smoking Quitline at 1-877-44U-QUIT (1-877-448-7848).
  • Avoid lung irritants, such as air pollution, chemical fumes, dusts, and secondhand smoke.
  • Avoid or limit alcohol. Talk to your healthcare providers about how much alcohol you drink. They may recommend that you limit or stop drinking alcohol. You can find resources and support at the Alcohol Treatment Navigator from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. You should also avoid recreational drugs. 
  • Get recommended vaccines. Your healthcare provider may ask you and anyone who lives with you to get regular vaccines, a vaccine for pneumococcus, and a flu shot every year.

For more information about keeping your lungs healthy, visit How the Lungs Work.

Know when to seek help

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

Take care of your mental health

Living with chronic respiratory failure may cause fear, anxiety, depression, and stress. Talk about how you feel with your healthcare provider or a professional counselor. They can help you find or learn ways to cope.

  • Get treatment for depression. If you are depressed, your healthcare provider may recommend medicines or other treatments that can improve your quality of life.
  • Join a patient support group. You can learn how other people who have similar symptoms have coped with them. Your provider may be able to help you find local support groups, or you can check with an area medical center.
  • Seek support from family and friends. Letting your loved ones know how you feel and what they can do to help you can help lower stress and anxiety.
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