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
- hypoxemic or type 1 respiratory failure.
- means that you don’t have enough oxygen in your blood, but your levels of carbon dioxide are close to normal.
- hypercapnic, hypercarbic, or type 2 respiratory failure.
- means that there’s too much carbon dioxide in your blood, and near normal or not enough oxygen in your blood.
What Causes It?
- An injury to your chest or ribs
- A drug or alcohol overdose, which can harm your brain and breathing
- Lung damage from breathing in fumes or smoke
- Lung disease or infection, like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cystic fibrosis, or pneumonia
- Muscle and nerve damage from conditions like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), spinal cord injuries, and stroke
- Scoliosis or other spine problems, which can affect bones and muscles involved in breathing
- Blocked blood flow to your lung, like with a blood clot
- Chronic (long-term) respiratory problems, such as cancer of the lungs, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or asthma
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:
- rapid breathing
Low oxygen levels may experience:
- an inability to breathe
- bluish coloration in the skin, fingertips, or lips
People with acute failure of the lungs and low oxygen levels may experience:
- loss of consciousness
- rapid and shallow breathing
- racing heart
- irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias)
- profuse sweating
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:
- pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)
- severe trauma
- severe brain injuries
- lung injuries caused by inhalation of smoke or chemical products
Infections are a common cause of respiratory distress. Pneumonia in particular, may cause respiratory failure, even in the absence of ARDS.