Respiratory therapists provide a wide range of services, including breathing treatments, lung capacity testing, application of mechanical ventilation “life support” instruction on breathing techniques, proper medication administration and the drawing of arterial blood gases to check for proper oxygenation and ventilation.
To evaluate a patient’s lung capacity, respiratory therapists have the patient breathe into an instrument that measures the volume and flow during inhalation and exhalation. By comparing the reading to normal measurements for the patient’s age, height, weight and sex, the physician will then determine whether the patient has any lung deficiencies. To analyze oxygen, carbon dioxide and pH levels, a therapist draws an arterial blood sample, then places it in a blood gas analyzer to measure the results. Treatment may be added or adjusted based on the results. Medications, called bronchodilators, may be given to ease breathing.
Respiratory therapists use oxygen or oxygen mixtures, and aerosol medications to treat patients. When a patient has difficulty getting enough oxygen into his or her blood, therapists increase the patient’s oxygen levels by placing an oxygen mask or nasal cannula on the patient and setting the oxygen flow at the level prescribed by a physician or by following established protocols. Patients who cannot breathe on their own are connected to ventilators that deliver pressurized oxygen into the lungs. The therapists insert a tube into the patient’s trachea, connect the tube to the ventilator, and set the rate, volume and oxygen concentration of the oxygen mixture.
Therapists also perform regular assessments of patients and equipment. If the patient appears to be having difficulty breathing, or if the oxygen, carbon dioxide or pH level of the blood is abnormal, the therapist will change the ventilator setting according to the doctor’s orders or established protocols.
Respiratory therapists also perform positive-pressure breathing treatments to help improve oxygenation, which makes it easier for the patient to breathe. For example, during surgery, anesthesia depresses respiration, so positive-pressure breathing treatments may be prescribed to help get the patient’s lungs back to normal and prevent congestion.
If respiratory therapy is needed, a respiratory therapist will work closely with your doctor and other members of the care team to ensure you receive excellent, appropriate care based on your condition.