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Medically reviewed by Last updated on Aug 31, 2022.

What is a ventilator?

A ventilator is a machine that helps a person breathe. A ventilator blows oxygen into the lungs and removes carbon dioxide out of the lungs. A ventilator may be needed for a few hours, weeks, or months. Sometimes it is needed for the rest of a person's life.


When is a ventilator used?

  • A ventilator is used during and sometimes after surgery when general anesthesia is given. Anesthesia causes sleep and relaxation during surgery. A ventilator helps the person continue to breathe during surgery.
  • A ventilator can also be used if the person has a condition that affects normal breathing. Common diseases and conditions that can affect breathing include the following:
    • Pneumonia and other lung infections
    • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and upper spinal cord injuries
    • Stroke or brain injury
    • Drug overdose

What else do I need to know about a ventilator?

  • Ventilators can be invasive or non-invasive. Invasive means the person gets oxygen through an endotracheal tube (trach). A trach is a hollow plastic tube that is placed in the trachea (windpipe) during surgery. Non-invasive means the person gets oxygen through a mask that can be removed.
  • A person on a ventilator will be monitored often. He or she will be made as comfortable as possible.
  • A person on a ventilator cannot cough up secretions. Another person will need to suction to help clear secretions. Suctioning, coughing, and movement can cause an alarm on the ventilator to sound.
  • Medicines may be given to help decrease anxiety. Sometimes medicine is given to prevent the person from moving while on the ventilator. He or she will still know what is happening around him or her.
  • A ventilator can prevent a person from talking and eating. If there is a tracheostomy, the person may be able to talk. If the person is not able to talk, he or she will need a pen and paper to communicate.

How will the ventilator be removed?

  • When a person's condition gets better, healthcare providers will try to let him or her breathe on his or her own. This will begin over short periods of time. The time will increase until the person can breathe completely on his or her own. The ventilator and the breathing tube will be removed.
  • If the person cannot breathe on his or her own for short periods, healthcare providers will try again later. The person may have to stay on the ventilator for a longer period if he or she cannot breathe on his or her own.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. 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.

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Further information

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