The novel Coronavirus has cast a spotlight on ventilators as a life saving device, but few know much about what they do or how they work. From the first day of the coronavirus outbreak hospitals in the U.S. began scrambling to collect ventilators. The idea was that people’s lives would be saved if they had enough ventilators for everyone with Covid-19. However, the picture is changing quickly as medical professionals learn more about this never before seen virus and as the infection continues to spread across the globe.
How does Covid-19 affect the lungs?
There is still a lot that researchers and medical professionals do not know about the Coronavirus. But statistics show that approximately 15 % of all Covid-19 cases are severe and will require oxygen support or and about 5 % of the patients will become critically ill and will require ventilators to assist them with breathing. If the body’s immune system does not fight off the infection, it can travel to the lungs and cause a serious condition called acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). (Read more about it in MIJA’s last blog called Covid-19 & Oxygen)
What is a Ventilator and How Does it Work?
Normally, when a healthy individual takes a breath, their chest wall expands, which creates negative pressure inside the lungs and draws air in. When a person is sick and cannot breathe on their own, a ventilator machine creates positive pressure that forces air into the lungs and pumps oxygen into their body.
A ventilator is commonly used on individuals with respiratory failure or serious conditions that impact the lungs, including pneumonia and severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 or SARS-CoV-2.
Before a patient is placed on a ventilator, a medical professional, often the anesthetists will perform a procedure called intubation that places the breathing tube in the mouth and into the windpipe, which connects to the ventilator. The medical staff can then adjust the rate of which air and oxygen is pushed into the lungs. The ventilator also may breathe out for you, or you may do it on your own.
Oxygen Therapy or a Ventilator?
As the pandemic has flooded hospitals with the virus, healthcare workers have been forced to figure out treatment protocols as they go. Over the past several months, many Covid-19 patients have had unexplained blood oxygen levels so low they should be dead, but they are not gasping for air, their hearts aren’t racing, and their brains show no affects from lack of oxygen, which has caused physicians to question the conviction about blood oxygen and the need for ventilators.
While some physicians are quick to use mechanical ventilators, others are in support of starting with less invasive breathing support, such as simple oxygen delivery with nose prongs and masks. If a patient needs more help, doctors then move up to what is called a non-rebreather mask, which still requires a patient to be breathe on their own but can deliver up to 100% oxygen concentration. However, oxygen concentration isn’t the only thing that doctors have to consider. In situations where the small branches of the lungs collapse due to the weight of the fluid building up around them, even the highest concentrations of oxygen cannot get into the lungs. So now, if a patient’s oxygen levels keep falling, physicians turn to a ventilator. in most cases, ventilators are the last resort and oxygen cylinders and concentrators are being required to help patients suffering from Covid-19.
For information on MIJA’s Critical Alert for oxygen cylinders contact Sales at 781-871-5750 or Liannino@mija.com