As Covid-19 Spreads, Here Is Why Ventilators Are Important

The coronavirus targets lungs and kills people from severe acute lung infections such as pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome.

Around 5% of the patients infected with the disease (Covid-19) need a ventilator to assist them in breathing.

How does the machine work?

Ventilators are mechanical breathing machines that help patents breathe and prevent the lungs from collapsing.

It uses pressure to blow air with extra oxygen into the lungs for breathing and maintaining optimal levels of oxygen in the blood.

The pressure is known as positive pressure. Patients usually exhale on their own, but the ventilator can assist with that too, if needed,

A ventilator can be set to breathe at a specific rate and the oxygen concentration can be adjusted to meet the needs of each patient.

What is intubation?

A breathing tube called an endotracheal tube is inserted through a patient’s mouth or nose to reach the throat (trachea). The process is called intubation.

The tube is normally used for people who need support for short periods, as during surgery or in ICUs.

For people who need ventilation for longer periods, intubation is done through a surgically-created opening in the front of the neck to reach the windpipe (trachea) through a procedure called a tracheostomy.

The tube is held in place by tape or with a tube-holder strap around the head or neck.

Both types of breathing tubes pass through the vocal cords and affect speaking abilities depending on the intubation process used.

When is ventilation used?
  • For people who are under anesthesia or undergoing surgery.
  • For people with severe acute respiratory infections, like pneumonia, from infections like Covid-19, and seasonal influenza.
  • When there is damage to nerves and muscles involved in breathing from diseases such as strokes, and upper spinal-cord injuries and damage caused by diseases like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), myasthenia gravis, among others.
What are the risks?
  • Bacteria may enter the lungs during intubation and cause ventilator-associated pneumonia.
  • The chances of sinus infection go up, more so in people with endotracheal intubation.
  • Air leaking out of the lungs into the space between the lungs and the chest wall (pneumothorax) may cause pain, shortness of breath, or lung collapse.
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