Acute respiratory failure is a potentially fatal lung condition that occurs when fluid accumulates in the lungs’ air sacs, preventing body organs from removing carbon dioxide from the blood or functioning properly due to a lack of oxygen-rich blood.
This condition happens when the capillaries, or small blood vessels that surround your air sacs, cannot exchange carbon dioxide for oxygen in a timely manner. The lungs become narrower and stiffer, making breathing difficult since blood’s oxygen saturation level decreases; This causes damage to the brain and other tissues and eventually results in organ failure if not treated promptly.
What are the causes of acute respiratory failure?
This condition is mainly caused by fluid leakage into the lungs’ smallest air sacs from blood vessels. Usually, a membrane acts as a barrier to block this fluid from leaking out into the body. However, damage to the membrane can lead to fluid leakage resulting from severe disease or injury.
Acute Respiratory Failure has several underlying causes, including the following:
Sepsis: a life-threatening bloodstream infection, is the most prevalent cause of Respiratory Failure.
Exposure to toxic fumes or smoke: Respiratory Failure can be caused by inhaling vomit or near-drowning events and high quantities of smoke or chemical fumes.
A serious injury to the head, chest, or other major organs: car accidents and sudden falls can cause direct injury to the lungs or the part of the brain responsible for respiration.
What are the symptoms of acute respiratory failure?
Breathing difficulties are the primary symptom of acute respiratory failure, in addition to other signs, including:
- Rapid breathing.
- Insomnia or anxiety.
- Loudly breathing (wheezing) and grunting.
- Rapid or irregular heartbeats.
- Cough and chest discomfort.
- Confusion or behavioural changes.
- Feeling exhausted (fatigue), sleeping more than usual, or having difficulty waking up.
- Blue-coloured skin, lips, or fingernails (cyanosis).
How is acute respiratory failure treated?
Respiratory failure is typically treated in conjunction with the underlying cause in the intensive care unit (ICU). You’ll be prescribed some medications like:
- Antibiotics for pneumococcal infection.
- Blood thinners to prevent blood clots.
- Inhaled medications to open the airways.
Afterwards, your doctor will recommend treatment options depending on your diagnosis, including:
You inhale oxygen via a fitted face mask or a nasal cannula. You can also get a portable oxygen tank to allow you to continue using it when you’re out of the hospital.
If oxygen therapy is insufficient or you cannot breathe independently, you may require a breathing machine. It blows air into your lungs, ensuring that you receive the necessary oxygen without working as hard for it. Additionally, they contribute to the reduction of carbon dioxide levels.
If the condition is more serious, you may require a breathing tube placed down your throat via surgery.
This is a surgical procedure where your doctor inserts a trach tube through an incision in your neck and windpipe to help you breathe. This surgery is recommended if you are using a ventilator for an extended period of time since the trach tube is used to connect the ventilator.
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