When Do Patients Need Ventilators to Treat COVID-19?

When a person's lung function has been severely compromised due to an injury or illness such as COVID-19, they may require the assistance of a ventilator. A ventilator is a machine that pumps air with additional oxygen into the patient's airways when they are unable to breathe properly on their own. In more severe cases of COVID-19, where patients are not getting enough oxygen, doctors may use a ventilator to help them breathe. The patient is seated and a tube is inserted into their trachea and connected to the machine, which pumps oxygen into their lungs.

COVID-19 can cause severe respiratory symptoms and an inability to take in an adequate amount of oxygen. When this leads to Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), a ventilator is needed to help the patient breathe. ARDS causes severe inflammation of the lungs and fluid to build up in the alveoli, which are tiny air sacs in the lungs that transfer oxygen to the blood and remove carbon dioxide. This reduces the ability of the lungs to provide enough oxygen to vital organs.

Ventilators can be used to save the lives of some people with COVID-19 by maintaining their lungs until their bodies can fight off the virus. However, patients with COVID-19 require intense sedation for invasive ventilation, and these medications often cause a drastic drop in blood pressure. To counteract this, vasopressor catecholamines such as norepinephrine are given to raise blood pressure, but this can have an adverse impact on the kidneys by affecting intrarenal perfusion.