FAQs about Ventilators


What is a ventilator?
A ventilator is a machine used to help a patient to breathe. It pushes air and oxygen into the lungs through a breathing tube called an endotracheal or tracheostomy tube.

When is a ventilator used?
A ventilator is used whenever a patient’s health condition makes it hard for them to breathe on their own. The health care team works together to ensure the ventilator is not used longer than necessary.

Endotracheal tube

What does intubation mean?
Intubation is a procedure by which an endotracheal tube is inserted into the mouth and down into the trachea (windpipe) when someone is unconscious or cannot breathe on their own. The endotracheal tube is then connected to the ventilator to provide air and oxygen to the lungs. Having an endotracheal tube is referred to as being intubated.

Can a person talk with an endotracheal tube?
Patients on a ventilator are not able to speak because the endotracheal tube goes through the vocal cords (voice box) and prevents them from moving. Once the tube is removed, patients will be able to speak again. At first, the voice may be hoarse and the patient may have a sore throat, but this will gradually go away.

How can I communicate with a person who has an endotracheal tube?
Family and friends play an important role. Even though your loved one cannot talk, it is important to continue to communicate with them. Ask questions that can be answered with “yes” or “no”, with a head nod or a squeeze of the hand. Some patients may be able to write and communicate with a clip board and pen.

Does it hurt to be on a ventilator?
Patients requiring a ventilator may complain of discomfort from the endotracheal tube as it may irritate the throat. Some patients may cough or complain of being short of breath. Our goal is to make your loved one as comfortable as possible.

Tracheostomy tube

What is a tracheostomy tube?
A tracheostomy tube is a small tube placed directly into a patient's trachea through the neck. This surgical procedure called a tracheostomy is performed in the Critical Care Unit or in the operating room.

When is a tracheostomy needed?
A tracheostomy tube may be needed for patients who need a ventilator for a prolonged period of time, patients unable to cough effectively to clear their secretions, or patients who may have a blocked airway.

What is suctioning?
Patients who require a breathing tube occasionally need suctioning to remove secretions or mucous from the airways to help with breathing. The nurse, respiratory therapist or physiotherapist inserts a small flexible suction catheter into the breathing tube.

Can a person eat or drink on a ventilator?
Patients who are on a ventilator cannot eat or drink. Nourishment is provided through a feeding tube that is inserted through the nose or mouth and down into the stomach.

What does it mean when the ventilator alarm sounds?
The ventilator system monitors the patient and is very sensitive to changes in the patient. When an alarm sounds, it notifies the health care team of these changes and to respond appropriately. 

Are there any complications associated with a ventilator?
Patients on a ventilator receive special care to prevent complications such as developing pneumonia. Keeping the head of the bed up at a 30 degree angle and providing oral care will help minimize this risk. Each day, the team will discuss the readiness to discontinue the ventilator and assess the patient’s ability to breathe without help. The team will also practice proper hand washing to help eliminate the spread of microorganisms associated with infection.

Families and friends play an important role in preventing infection by washing your hands often. Please follow the signs on the door to determine if you need to wear a mask, gown, goggles and gloves.