A ventilator is a machine that provides mechanical ventilation by moving breathable air into and out of the lungs, to deliver breaths to a patient who is physically unable to breathe, or breathing insufficiently. Modern ventilators are computerized microprocessor-controlled machines, but patients can also be ventilated with a simple, hand-operated bag valve mask. Ventilators are chiefly used in intensive-care medicine, home care, and emergency medicine (as standalone units) and in anesthesiology (as a component of an anesthesia machine).
A ventilator uses pressure to blow air—or air with extra oxygen—into your lungs. This pressure is known as positive pressure. You usually breathe out the air on your own, but sometimes the ventilator does this for you too.
A ventilator can be set to “breathe” a set number of times a minute. Sometimes it is set so that the machine only blows air into your lungs when you need it to help you breathe.
Before your healthcare team puts you on a ventilator, they may give you:
- Fluids and other medicines through your vein (via IV) to help keep oxygen-rich blood flowing to your organs
- Medicines to make you sleepy and to stop you from feeling pain
- Oxygen through a mask
There are several ways to get air from the ventilator into your lungs. You may wear a mask or helmet, or you may need a breathing tube.