NEW ORLEANS – Today, Dr. Rachel explains how ventilators work.
What happens when you take a breath? Your lungs fill with air, which contains oxygen. The oxygen travels down to very small air sacs in your lungs called alveoli. The oxygen is then transferred from the alveoli to tiny blood vessels. Your red blood cells carry the oxygen to your entire body.
When the new coronavirus invades the lungs, the immune system kicks in to fight the virus, leading to inflammation and irritation of the lung tissue or damage to alveoli.
About 80% of those with COVID-19 get mild to moderate inflammation of lung tissue and have mild symptoms like a dry cough or sore throat. In about 15% of people, the virus can cause severe infection in their lungs and worsening inflammation, which damages these small air sacs or alveoli as well as the tiny vessels.
When a patient has COVID-19, fluid may start to build up in the lungs. As more fluid builds up in the lungs, it is harder to breathe and supply oxygen to the body. If this is the case, a patient may require supplemental oxygen in the hospital to make sure the patient’s body stays well oxygenated.
In about 5% of people, the new coronavirus causes very severe inflammation of the lungs. This inflammation damages the small air sacs or alveoli as well as the tiny vessels. In this case, the fluid builds up so badly that the patient cannot breathe efficiently enough to supply oxygen to their body. They will need to be placed on a ventilator to help with breathing and oxygenate their body.
A ventilator helps a patient breathe so that their organs can get adequate oxygen. Once the patient’s lungs have improved from the virus then they are slowly weaned off the ventilator until their lungs are strong enough to work on their own.
A ventilator does not cure COVID-19. The device helps a patient live until they have recovered enough from the virus that their lungs can work on their own.