First aid

First aid for acute respiratory failure

When a person has acute respiratory failure, the organs cannot receive enough oxygen for normal functioning. Acute oxygen deficiency of tissues can develop if the lungs cannot independently remove carbon dioxide from the blood. This is one of the emergency situations that occurs on the background of external breathing disorders. The main causes of this complication are various mechanical obstacles that worsen breathing, allergic or inflammatory edema, cramping in the bronchi and pharynx. Since this process interferes with normal breathing, it is necessary to know the rules of first aid for preserving a person’s health and life.

What is acute respiratory failure?

Respiratory failure is a condition in which gas exchange in the lungs is impaired, resulting in low levels of blood oxygen and high levels of carbon dioxide. There are two types of respiratory failure. In the first case, the oxygen that enters the lungs for delivery to the rest of the body is not enough. This can lead to further problems, because the heart, brain, and other organs need enough oxygen-rich blood. This is called hypoxemic respiratory failure because respiratory failure is caused by low levels of oxygen in the blood. Another type is hypercapnic respiratory failure, which occurs as a result of high levels of carbon dioxide in the blood. Both types can be present at the same time.

To understand the process of breathing, you should know how gas exchange occurs. The air initially flows through the nose or mouth into the trachea, then passes through the bronchi, bronchioles and enters the alveoli, air sacs, where gas exchange takes place. Capillaries pass through the walls of the alveoli. It is here that oxygen is efficiently passed through the walls of the alveoli and enters the bloodstream, while moving carbon dioxide from the blood into the air sacs. If acute respiratory failure occurs, then oxygen does not enter the body in sufficient quantities. Accordingly, the state of health worsens, organs and the brain do not receive oxygen, the consequences appear immediately after the onset of the attack. If time does not stop him, then the person is likely to die.

Symptoms of Respiratory Failure

Acute respiratory failure can occur in various pathological conditions in the body. Any form of injury that compromises the airways can significantly affect the gas composition of the blood. Respiratory failure depends on the amount of carbon dioxide and oxygen present in the blood. If carbon dioxide levels are elevated and blood oxygen levels are decreased, the following symptoms may occur:

  • dyspnea;
  • the blueness of the tips of the fingers, nose, lips;
  • increased anxiety;
  • confusion of consciousness;
  • drowsiness;
  • increased heart rate;
  • change in breathing rhythm;
  • extrasystole or arrhythmia;
  • profuse sweating.

Causes of Acute Respiratory Failure

One of the most common causes of respiratory failure is the closure of the lumen of the respiratory tract after vomiting, bleeding, or small foreign objects. Cases of acute respiratory failure may be in medicine. For example, in dentistry, practitioners often come across such forms of insufficiency as stenotic or obstructive. Stenotic asphyxia is the result of allergic edema. Obstructive asphyxia can be caused by the penetration into the respiratory tract of various objects used in the treatment, such as a tooth, gauze sponges or impression materials. From this, a person begins to suffocate and, again, oxygen does not enter the body in sufficient quantities.

In case of acute asphyxiation, the patient's breathing becomes frequent with a further stop. The patient may have convulsions, tachycardia. Against the background of asphyxiation, the patient's skin turns gray, the pulse is weak, consciousness is disturbed. It is important that the medical staff act immediately and accurately, if this happened in the hospital, if not, first aid should be provided so that the person survives before the arrival of the joint venture team. The danger is that there is no time to think. The lack of oxygen begins to destroy cells. Either the brain or one of the vital organs can fail at any moment, and loss of consciousness will only aggravate the situation.

There are various other causes of acute respiratory failure that should be addressed. The most important factor in the health of any person is his lifestyle. Since medical intervention extremely rarely leads to shortness of breath and asthma attacks. The reasons for the development of this state should be sought precisely in their usual way. In addition, if the attack begins due to surgical intervention, then the doctors will quickly orient themselves and provide the necessary assistance. As for other situations, no one guarantees that a person with a medical education will be nearby. Therefore, doctors themselves advise to avoid factors that are a potential cause of acute respiratory failure.

Main reasons:

  • medical intervention in the nasopharynx or oral cavity;
  • injuries;
  • acute respiratory distress syndrome;
  • chemical inhalation;
  • alcohol abuse
  • stroke;
  • infection.

Any form of trauma that compromises the airways can significantly affect the amount of oxygen in the blood. Try not to injure your body. Acute respiratory distress syndrome is a serious disease that occurs against the background of the inflammatory process in the lungs, which is determined by impaired gas diffusion in the alveoli and a low oxygen content in the blood. The so-called "chemical inhalation" also leads to an attack - inhalation of toxic chemicals, vapors or smoke, which can lead to acute respiratory failure.

Alcohol or drug abuse is not the last cause of a seizure. Their overdose can disrupt the brain and stop the ability to inhale or exhale. A stroke in itself causes malfunctions in the body, not only the brain and heart suffer, but also the respiratory system. Infection is the most common cause of respiratory distress syndrome.

First aid for acute respiratory failure

The goal of the treatment and prevention of respiratory failure is oxygen saturation and a decrease in the level of carbon dioxide in the body. Treating an attack can include eradicating the underlying causes. If you notice a person has acute respiratory failure, then the following steps must be taken. Firstly, immediately seek emergency medical help - call an ambulance. Then, the victim must be given first aid.

Check blood circulation, airway and breathing. To watch the pulse, put two fingers to your neck to check your breathing, tilt your cheek between the victim’s nose and lips and feel the breath. Watch the movements of the chest. Do all the necessary manipulations for 5-10 seconds. If the person stops breathing, give artificial respiration. With your mouth open, squeeze your nose and press your lips to the victim’s mouth. Inhale. Repeat the procedure several times if necessary. Continue mouth-to-mouth resuscitation until medical personnel arrive.

As for treatment in a hospital, it is usually based on the complete elimination of the attack. The doctor will eliminate respiratory failure with drugs to improve breathing. If a person can adequately breathe independently, and hypoxemia is mild, oxygen can be supplied from a special spray bottle (a portable air reservoir is always available if necessary). If a person cannot breathe on his own, the doctor will insert a breathing tube into his nose or mouth and “plug” the fan into the device to assist with breathing.

In any case, first of all it is necessary to eliminate the cause of the development of respiratory failure.

The condition of the patient requires emergency measures to restore airway patency.

Article author:
Izvozchikova Nina Vladislavovna

Specialty: infectious diseases specialist, gastroenterologist, pulmonologist.

Total experience: 35 years.

Education: 1975-1982, 1MMI, San gig, high qualification, infectious diseases doctor.

Science degree: doctor of the highest category, PhD.


  1. Infectious diseases.
  2. Parasitic diseases.
  3. Emergency conditions.
  4. HIV
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