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Ventilators (Breathing Machines)


Ventilators are commonly known as breathing machines because they support patients to breathe for themselves, or can take over breathing for a patient completely. Some people also refer to them as life support machines, although this is not strictly true.

Care Fusion High Frequency Oscillation Ventilator

Are All Ventilators the Same? Carefusion_HighFrequencyOscillatorVentilator

Ventilators come in many shapes and sizes but all generally work in the same way. The ICU team are able to set the ventilator to give individual patients exactly what they need. This could range from assisting the patient's own breaths to full support by taking over a patient's breathing completely. Patients who are ventilated require close monitoring, so they are allocated one nurse to look after them. When the patient has improved and is able to do all of their own breathing, the breathing tube will be removed. This procedure is called extubation.

A Bennet Ventilator

How Does A Ventilator Work?

A patient is connected to a ventilator via a breathing tube (endotracheal tube) that is inserted into the windpipe (trachea). This tube is introduced into the trachea via the mouth or the nose during a procedure called intubation. This tube is held in place by cotton or adhesive tape and is then connected to the ventilator. There are many reasons why someone may need to be ventilated, including:

  • To protect the airway and lungs if the person is not awake enough, eg after surgery, or if they have had a stroke
  • If the patient has respiratory (lungs) muscle weakness and they are not strong enough to breathe for themselves
  • If they have suffered damage to their lungs from an infection or trauma

Are There Any Complications?

All Intensive Care interventions and procedures carry a degree of potential risk even when performed by skilled and experienced staff. Please discuss these issues with the medical and nursing staff who are caring for the patient.

Any Questions?

Of course, if you have any questions or concerns, please discuss them with the ICU nurses and doctors.


Please note these translations are based on a previous version of this page.


Ventilators Version 1.1
First published June 2004
Reviewed June 2008
Reviewer Kathleen Ryan ICCMU CNC

Last Updated on Wednesday, 18 December 2013 23:49