Ventilator/Ventilator Support
Ventilator/Ventilator Support

Ventilator/Ventilator Support Risks of Being on a Ventilator

A ventilator may be necessary to help you breathe on your own. Being placed on a ventilator can raise your risk of infection such as pneumonia or other problems.


One of the most serious and common risks of being on a ventilator is developing pneumonia. The breathing tube makes it hard for you to cough. Coughing helps clear your airways of germs that can cause infections. The breathing tube that is put into your airway can allow bacteria and viruses to enter your lungs and, as a result, cause pneumonia.

Pneumonia is a major concern because people who need to be placed on ventilators are often already very sick. Pneumonia may make it harder to treat your other disease or condition. You may need special antibiotics, as the bacteria that caused your pneumonia could be resistant to standard antibiotics.

Another risk of being on a ventilator is a sinus infection. This type of infection is more common in people who have endotracheal tubes. Sinus infections are treated with antibiotics.

Other risks

Being placed on a ventilator can raise your risk for other problems.

  • Atelectasis is a condition in which your lung or parts of it do not expand fully. This causes the air sacs to collapse and reduces the amount of oxygen that reaches your blood.
  • Blood clots and skin breakdown can happen from staying in one position for long periods. When using a ventilator, you may need to stay in bed or use a wheelchair. This raises your risk of blood clots, serious wounds on your skin called bedsores, and infections.
  • Fluid can build up in the air sacs inside your lungs, which are usually filled with air. This is called pulmonary edema.
  • Lung damage can result from pushing too much air into your lungs or using too much pressure. Too much oxygen can also damage your lungs. Babies put on a ventilator, especially premature infants, may be at a higher risk of lung damage from excess oxygen therapy and lung infections in childhood and adulthood.
  • Pneumothorax is a condition that develops when air leaks out of your lungs and into the space between the lungs and the chest wall, and sometimes into the muscles and tissues of your chest wall and neck. This leakage can cause pain and shortness of breath. It may cause one or both lungs to collapse. The air that enters the chest could also put pressure on your heart, resulting in a life-threatening situation that would require immediate placement of a tube in your chest to drain the air and decrease the pressure on your heart.
  • Vocal cord damage from the breathing tube can damage your vocal cords. This can affect the passage of air into the lungs, especially in young children with smaller airways. Tell your doctor if you experience hoarseness or have trouble speaking or breathing after your breathing tube is removed.
  • Weak diaphragm and other breathing muscles from long-term use of a ventilator can lead to some problems and delays in being taken off the machine.
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