Respiratory Failure

What is Respiratory Failure?

Acute respiratory failure occurs when fluid builds up in the air sacs in your lungs. When that happens, your lungs can’t release oxygen into your blood. In turn, your organs can’t get enough oxygen-rich blood to function.

You can also develop acute respiratory failure if your lungs can’t remove carbon dioxide from your blood.

Types of Respiratory Failure

What Causes It?

What Are the Symptoms?

Your symptoms will depend on the cause and whether you have low oxygen, high carbon dioxide, or both.

High carbon dioxide levels may experience:

Low oxygen levels may experience:

People with acute failure of the lungs and low oxygen levels may experience:

Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is a serious condition characterized by low oxygen in the blood. ARDS affects you if you already have an underlying health problem such as:


Infections are a common cause of respiratory distress. Pneumonia in particular, may cause respiratory failure, even in the absence of ARDS.