Intubation, with subsequent mechanical ventilation, is a common life-saving intervention in the emergency department (ED). Given the increasing length of stay of ventilated patients in EDs, it is necessary for emergency practitioners to have a good understanding of techniques to optimize mechanical ventilation and minimize complications.
Many different strategies of positive-pressure ventilation are available; these are based on various permutations of triggered volume-cycled and pressure-cycled ventilations and are delivered at a range of rates, volumes, and pressures. Poor ventilatory management can inflict serious pulmonary and extrapulmonary damage that may not be immediately apparent.
 
Because many of the effects of ICU ventilators-induced lung injury are delayed and not seen while patients are in the ED, much of our understanding of the adverse consequences of volutrauma, air-trapping, barotrauma, and oxygen toxicity has come from the critical care literature. While the fundamental principles underlying mechanical ventilatory support have changed little over the decades, much progress has been made in our understanding of the secondary pathophysiologic changes associated with positive-pressure ventilation.
 
Ventilatory strategies have been devised for different disease processes to protect pulmonary parenchyma while maintaining adequate gas exchange, and they may be responsible for the increased rates of survival for pathologies such as acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). Several recent clinical trials have demonstrated that optimizing ventilatory parameters reduces overall duration of mechanical ventilation and organ failure. Additionally, an upsurge in utilization of noninvasive ventilation has permitted many patients to avoid the risks and complications of tracheal intubation.