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Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome


  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome, or ARDS, is a sudden and very serious illness that affects your lungs. The lungs are two hollow organs in your chest. They stretch like a balloon when you breathe in, filling with air.
    Picture of the normal respiratory system
  • ARDS occurs when the lungs become swollen and filled with fluid. The lung fluid causes severe shortness of breath and may lead to respiratory failure. Respiratory failure means you cannot breathe well enough to get oxygen to the cells of your body. A ventilator, or breathing machine, may be needed to help you breathe. Caregivers do not exactly know what causes ARDS but it may be caused by a lung injury. ARDS is an emergency and immediate treatment is needed.


Take your medicine as directed:

Call your primary healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not working as expected. Tell him if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a current list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when, how, and why you take them. Take the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency. Throw away old medicine lists.

Ask for information about where and when to go for follow-up visits:

For continuing care, treatments, or home services, ask for more information.

Breathing exercises:

You may feel short of breath when you are active. The following are breathing exercises that may help you breathe more easily:

  • Breathe out with pursed or puckered lips (like playing the trumpet).
  • Breathe using your diaphragm. Put one hand on your abdomen and breathe in, causing your hand to move outward or upward. Your lungs will have more room to get bigger and to take in more air.

Avoid the spread of germs:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. Carry germ-killing gel with you. You can use the gel to clean your hands when there is no soap and water available.
  • Do not touch your eyes, nose, or mouth unless you have washed your hands first.
  • Always cover your mouth when you cough. Cough into a tissue or your shirtsleeve so you do not spread germs from your hands.
  • Try to avoid people who have a cold or the flu. If you are sick, stay away from others as much as possible.
  • Do not smoke. Smoking harms the heart, lungs, and the blood. You are more likely to have a heart attack, lung disease, and cancer if you smoke. Not only will you help yourself by not smoking but also those around you. If you have trouble quitting, talk to your caregiver about ways to quit.
  • Do not drink alcohol. Alcohol uses up oxygen causing the heart and lungs to work harder, making your health problem worse.
  • Stay inside during very cold or hot weather. You should also stay inside on days when air pollution or pollen counts are high. If you work where the air quality is bad, you may need to change your work area.
  • Talk to your caregiver before you start exercising. Together you can plan the best exercise program for you. It is best to start slowly and do more as you get stronger. Exercising makes the heart stronger, lowers blood pressure, and keeps you healthy.


  • You have a fever.
  • You are lightheaded or dizzy, sweaty, or nauseated after you take your medicine.
  • You have increased swelling in your legs, feet, or abdomen (stomach).
  • You are wheezing (a high pitched noise when breathing in or out).
  • You are coughing up bloody sputum.
  • You have questions or concerns about your illness, medicine, or care.


  • You have trouble breathing all of a sudden.
  • You have a fast heart beat and your chest hurts.
  • You feel so dizzy that you have trouble standing up.
  • Your lips and nail beds are blue in color.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

Learn more about Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (Aftercare Instructions)

Associated drugs

IBM Watson Micromedex

Mayo Clinic Reference