Patients who need respiratory care benefit from treatments that help them breathe better and more easily. A number of conditions, illnesses, injuries, and surgeries can impact the pulmonary system, decreasing lung function or the absorption of oxygen from the lungs. The work of respiratory therapists is to assist patients and help them manage breathing symptoms and while also improving lung function if possible.

Respiratory care may be provided in a variety of settings and for a wide range of patients, but respiratory therapists most often work in hospitals. They manage ventilators and airways, monitor and assess patients, guide respiratory treatments, and educate patients and their families. Good respiratory care is crucial for patients who otherwise may not be able to breathe unassisted or who struggle to breathe and need treatments to improve function.

What is Respiratory Therapy?

Respiratory therapy or care is a type of health care that involves evaluating and diagnosing patients with respiratory issues and providing treatment, management, and ongoing assessments to improve breathing. Any patient of any age may need respiratory therapy. There are many conditions, illnesses, injuries, and symptoms that can impact breathing and many different patients can benefit from care to make breathing easier.

Respiratory care may be provided for patients in the short-term, for rehabilitation after an illness for instance. This kind of therapy may also be used over long periods of time, or indefinitely, for patients with progressive illnesses and who will not recover. Respiratory therapy involves the use of a number of tools, strategies, technology and equipment to manage symptoms and improve breathing.

Respiratory Therapists

The health care professionals who provide this important type of care are called respiratory therapists. These are allied health workers who have expertise that supports the treatment that patients receive from physicians. Typically, a respiratory therapist holds an associate degree in respiratory therapy, although some have earned a four-year degree. They are licensed in most states and must pass the National Board for Respiratory Care certification examination in order to get licensed and work with patients. Respiratory therapists must work under the supervision of physicians and make their diagnoses and treatment plans in consultation with them.

What Respiratory Therapists Do for Patients

In general, respiratory therapists help patients breathe better, but there are many things they actually do to achieve this and to provide quality care, beginning with assessing and evaluating patients so that they can establish treatment goals and develop the right plan. The responsibilities of respiratory therapists providing care include:

  • Interviewing and assessing patients.
  • Performing physical exams.
  • Diagnosing breathing challenges and consulting with physicians to develop treatment plans.
  • Performing tests to diagnose breathing, oxygen uptake, lung capacity, and other measurements.
  • Setting up, operating, and monitoring life support ventilators.
  • Managing artificial airways in patients.
  • Checking vital signs.
  • Administering aerosol spray medications.
  • Monitoring and operating humidifiers.
  • Performing and guiding patients through pulmonary exercises.
  • Performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
  • Performing chest physiotherapy to help eliminate mucus and improve breathing.
  • Educating patients and their families about symptoms, illnesses, treatments, and home care.

Who Needs Respiratory Therapy?

Any patient who has difficulty breathing can benefit from respiratory care. Patients needing this type of care may be struggling with a cardiopulmonary condition that affects breathing. These include but are not limited to emphysema, congestive heart failure, pneumonia, bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, lung cancer, and asthma. A patient who has been injured and is suffering from chest trauma may also benefit from respiratory therapy.

Respiratory therapy is often rehabilitative. While for many chronic pulmonary conditions the treatment is ongoing, for some patients, respiratory therapy aids in rehabilitation and recovery from an illness, injury, or surgery. Patients of all ages may need respiratory therapy, including infants who may have congenital lung defects and elderly patients who are ill or struggling after a medical emergency.

Where Respiratory Therapy is Provided

Patients may receive respiratory therapy in a variety of settings. In hospitals, which are where most respiratory therapists work, they provide care in emergency rooms, in the intensive care unit, in trauma departments, in pulmonary departments, and in pediatric units, as well as any other area of the hospital where respiratory care is needed.

Respiratory therapy is typically common in nursing homes where many patients need special care, often related to pulmonary conditions. Respiratory therapists may also work with patients in private practices, doctors’ offices, and specialty clinics and medical centers. Respiratory care can also be provided in the home as part of a comprehensive home care treatment plan.

The Benefits of Respiratory Therapy

The benefits that patients get from good respiratory care depend on the individual needs of each one and the quality of the therapist working with them. Respiratory therapy can help patients breathe more easily, transition from ventilation and artificial airways to breathing unassisted, have better lung function and oxygen absorption, be able to leave the hospital sooner, manage their own respiratory care at home, and get relief from the difficulties of not being able to breathe fully.

Getting Quality Respiratory Therapy

Respiratory therapy is an important type of health care because breathing is so fundamental to good health. Without the ability to breathe well or fully, patients struggle and suffer. While physicians and other specialists treat the underlying condition, respiratory therapists provide the care that helps patients feel more comfortable and recover better. Getting good quality respiratory care makes all the difference.

If you or a loved one needs respiratory care make sure that the therapist is licensed and certified. When working with the therapist assigned by the hospital, ensure the best care by asking a lot of questions, asking for therapies to be explained, and making sure the therapist is being guided by a physician. This is essential, as all respiratory therapists are supposed to work with doctors, relying on them for assistance with diagnoses and treatment decisions.

Respiratory therapy and the professionals who provide it are important components of the health care system. Breathing well is important for wellness and comfort, and while physicians are focused on treating and managing conditions, respiratory therapists can focus on helping patients breathe better every day. The work they do is essential and should be of the best quality so that patients get excellent care.