Bronchial spasms

Respiratory failure

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Respiratory failure is inability of the respiratory system to sufficiently supply fresh oxygen or eliminate carbon monoxide which results to low blood oxygen or high blood carbon dioxide levels.

Various conditions can cause one or both issues. Acute or abrupt respiratory failure can occur from trauma, inhalation of carbon monoxide, injury or alcohol overdose. When it comes to chronic cases, it is caused by COPD, neuromuscular disease or even morbid obesity.

What are the indications?

Respiratory failure
Acute or abrupt respiratory failure can occur from trauma, inhalation of carbon monoxide, injury or alcohol overdose.

Respiratory failure can cause insufficient oxygenation or ventilation along with various symptoms that can be severe such as:

  • Bluish discoloration of the fingernails or lips
  • Fatigue
  • Confusion or loss of consciousness
  • Fainting or change in the level of consciousness
  • Erratic heart rate
  • Rapid breathing or shortness of breath

Risk factors

  • Shock
  • Aspiration of stomach contents
  • Undergoing multiple blood transfusions
  • Combination of alcohol and drug abuse
  • Severe obesity
  • COPD


The objective of treatment for respiratory failure is to improve oxygenation and ventilation. The treatment is based on the severity of the condition and exact cause.

The treatment for acute cases deals with the underlying cause and usually includes ventilation and oxygenation as required. If chronic cases due to infection worsen, hospitalization is required and can include oxygenation and ventilator support. In addition, bronchodilators are given to improve the patency of the airway.

Various treatment options are available as treatment such as:

  • Antibiotics for respiratory infections
  • Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP)
  • Inhaled steroid medications to reduce the inflammation
  • Bilevel positive airway pressure
  • Tracheostomy which involves the creation of a hole in the front part of the neck to allow the individual to breathe
  • Lung transplant in rare cases

More Information / Disclaimer

The information posted on this page on respiratory failure is for learning purposes only. Learn to recognize and manage respiratory issues by taking a standard first aid course with Red Deer First Aid.


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