We all know that one of the most important pieces of equipment in hospitals around the world right now is the ventilator. In fact, ventilators are in such high demand that many hospitals are in short supply – or completely out of spares.

For patients who require oxygen supplementation, there’s no denying that ventilators are their best chance of survival. But can they actually save patients’ lives? Or do they merely provide them with an opportunity to recover?

The role of a ventilator

To understand how a ventilator might benefit COVID-19 patients, it’s first worth knowing exactly what a ventilator does. Essentially, a ventilator takes over a person’s breathing for them, providing them with air – containing oxygen – which their lungs can absorb. For patients who cannot breathe out, a ventilator can also do this for them, removing the air containing carbon dioxide from their lungs.

A ventilator is generally strapped to a patient’s face as a face mask. Seriously ill patients, or patients who are unconscious, may need to be ventilated using a breathing tube through the mouth or nose.

Image credit: BBC

Ventilators and COVID-19 patients

The use of a ventilator for COVID-19 patients is usually only reserved for those who are experiencing pneumonia, a lung condition, and complication of the virus. Pneumonia can cause the air sacs in the lungs to fill with fluid, which makes it difficult for patients to breathe in the oxygen they need.

This is where ventilators provide essential support, by giving the correct dose of oxygen to a patient to help them to absorb the right amount in their blood.

For many patients with Coronavirus, breathing in “normal” air, with its usual levels of oxygen, isn’t enough, because their lungs aren’t absorbing the oxygen like they should be. The role of a ventilator is to deliver air with a higher concentration of oxygen to the patient. The amount of oxygen needed is determined by an advanced medical oxygen sensor, such as those provided by https://www.sensoronics.com/, which can detect blood-oxygen levels and indicate how much supplemental oxygen is needed.

Saving lives or prolonging them?

Ventilators can’t save lives or cure Coronavirus. They don’t have the power to alter or enhance the body’s antibodies and help them to fight the virus at a quicker rate. All they can do is keep the patient in a stable condition while they battle the virus themselves.

In some ways, this means that ventilators can save COVID-19 patients, who may have died from a lack of oxygen while fighting the virus. However, in some instances, a patient’s body will succumb to the virus, and there is nothing that a ventilator can do to help them.

It’s estimated that around one-third of patients survive on ventilators, and for many, these ventilators represent their last hope. Some patients only require ventilator use for a few hours, but most will need to be on ventilation for more than a week. If patients experience issues with other organs during ventilation, they may also need to extend their time receiving supplemental oxygen.