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Respiratory failure: symptoms, causes and treatment

by Alivia Nyhan
Published: Last Updated on

Respiratory failure is a disease in which the lungs cannot fulfill their function; for this reason, the levels of oxygen in the blood decrease, and the concentration of carbon dioxide increases. This condition can affect both children and adults, even babies develop it, and it usually appears suddenly, which makes it a medical emergency. At FastlyHealwe, explain respiratory failure symptoms, causes, and treatment.

Symptoms of respiratory failure

Regardless of the cause of respiratory failure, symptoms present within 24 to 48 hours of injury as follows:

  • Acceleration of the heart and breathing rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Bluish discoloration of the skin
  • Short of breath
  • Sweats
  • Neurological disorders

Classification of respiratory failure

Respiratory failure is classified as follows:

  • Acute respiratory failure is the most common; in this case, the lungs cannot perform their function, requiring the administration of oxygen and immediate hospitalization.
  • Chronic respiratory failure: in this case, the disease is permanent, its evolution is slow, and in the long run, it can be disabling. Depending on its cause, respiratory failure will be divided into obstructive or restrictive chronic respiratory disease.

Causes of respiratory failure

The causes of respiratory failure vary according to their classification:

Severe respiratory insufficiency

  • It can be caused by a decrease in the air that the lungs ventilate caused by apnea, obstruction of the airways by inhalation of foreign bodies, seizures, or others, due to a block of the bronchi due to an asthma attack or trauma to the spine.
  • Alteration of pulmonary circulation develops due to an imbalance between the amount of blood and oxygen, either due to a blockage of the arteries due to a clot, stroke, heart failure, and lung diseases.
  • Injury to the alveolocapillary membrane can be caused by inhalation of gases, viral diseases, inhalation of liquids, or trauma.
  • Some conditions aggravate acute respiratory failure and make it chronic, as can occur in the process of bronchitis.

Chronic respiratory failure

  • Obstructive respiratory failure refers to the airways being obstructed; the leading cause is tobacco consumption; it can also be a consequence of diseases such as asthma, bronchitis, or pulmonary emphysema.
  • On the other hand, restrictive respiratory failure is less frequent and does not affect the bronchi. It is related to poliomyelitis, the thorax or spine, removal of lung surgeries, pulmonary fibrosis, or tuberculosis.

What produces these alterations is that the lungs become rigid, reducing their ability to expand; this lack of oxygen affects other organs such as livers and kidneys. The consumption of alcoholic beverages and smoking can risk developing respiratory failure.

Treatment of respiratory failure

A pulmonologist will diagnose the type of respiratory failure that you have developed and apply the appropriate treatment. The purpose of the treatment will be to provide the respiratory support that the patient needs and treat causes such as inflammation or infections. Remember that this condition requires immediate treatment.

Treatment for acute respiratory failure will be:

  • Oxygen therapy will be administered through different devices, and high doses of oxygen are supplied.
  • Ventilatory assistance: If the oxygen therapy does not work, the patient must be connected to an artificial respirator; this will free the airways, preventing the inhalation of fluids and bronchial secretions.

In the case of chronic respiratory failure, the treatment will be:

  • Oxygen Therapy
  • Medications: in this case, bronchodilators and antibiotics will be administered in case of an infection.
  • Respiratory physiotherapy: facilitates the expulsion of the mucus that causes the obstruction and also allows the respiratory muscles to be more efficient
  • Tracheostomy: it is a hole that is made in the trachea when respiratory failure is severe; through this hole, the necessary oxygen will be administered. The placed cannula can remain there for years, and hygienic care must be taken.


Respiratory failure is a disease that evolves slowly but significantly impacts the patient. Over time, the person may need to be hospitalized more often, and oxygen needs to be given constantly. For this, an oxygen pump can be supplied at home or a portable pump in the most severe cases.

This article is merely informative; at FastlyHeal .com, we do not have the power to prescribe medical treatments or make any diagnosis. We invite you to see a doctor in the case of presenting any condition or discomfort.

If you want to read more articles similar to Respiratory failure: symptoms, causes, and treatment, we recommend that you enter our Lung and respiratory tract category.

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