If your lungs have failed and you are unable to breathe on your own, you will need to be attached to a mechanical ventilator. A mechanical ventilator is a machine that moves oxygen-enriched air in and out of your lungs.
You will usually need to be sedated before being put on a mechanical ventilator because it would be very uncomfortable otherwise. A sedative is medication that makes you sleepy.
Mechanical ventilators can offer different levels of breathing assistance. For example, if you are having problems inhaling (breathing in), a mechanical ventilator can be used solely for this purpose.
If you only need help breathing for a couple of days, you may have a tube from the mechanical ventilator placed in your windpipe (an endotracheal tube or ETT), usually through your mouth, but sometimes through your nose. The tube will be held in place behind your neck.
However, if you need assistance with breathing for more than a few days, you may have a short operation called a tracheostomy. The tube in your mouth will be replaced by a shorter tube that is placed directly into your trachea (windpipe).
As well as being more comfortable, a tracheostomy will make keeping your lungs clean easier and will usually require less sedation.
In some cases, your breathing may be assisted with the use of a non-invasive mechanical ventilator. This eliminates the need for invasive breathing tubes and sedation, and reduces the risk of the mechanical ventilator causing an infection.
During non-invasive ventilation, a mask will be securely fitted over your mouth or both your nose and mouth. Air will be passed into the mask to help you breathe.