Ventilators are making headlines as severely ill COVID-19 patients are being put on the machines as a life-saving measure. But what is it about a ventilator that can help these patients? Dr. Vikram Padmanabhan, pulmonary and critical care doctor at UW Medical Center - Northwest, explains ventilators are a common machine used to help patients who have breathing difficulties get oxygen into the body and breathe out carbon dioxide.
"Specifically for COVID-19 pneumonia, patients can develop severe viral infection of the lung which can then secondarily lead to a huge amount of inflammation in the lungs which can then clog up the little air sacs called alveoli in the lungs leading to an inability to oxygenate. So by far and away that’s the most common reason for a patient with severe COVID-19 pneumonia to require a ventilator," he says.
Ventilators are not required for every COVID-19 patient, Dr. Padmanabhan adds. It's determined on a case-by-case basis as there are other strategies that can be used to help.