Acute & chronic respiratory failure: symptoms & treatment

Acute respiratory failure is a condition which may occurs when the fluid buildup into the air sacs in your lung. In this situation the lungs cannot able to release air oxygen into your blood. The organs of your body cannot gel sufficient oxygen rich blood for function. In this condition also develop the acute respiratory failure, if the lungs cannot remove carob dioxide from blood. Acute respiratory failure develops rapidly and emergency treatment is required for acute respiratory failure. On other hand chronic respiratory failure develops slowly.

On the other hand respiratory failure occurs when the capillaries in air sac cannot able to exchange carbon dioxide for oxygen. This condition can be chronic or acute. Due to acute respiratory failure, you may experience immediate symptoms. In many cases acute respiratory failure may lead to death if you do not quickly treat.

What is acute respiratory failure

Acute respiratory failure is happen when enough oxygen cannot pass from the lungs into blood. Our body organ such as brain and heart needed enough oxygen rich blood for proper work.

Acute respiratory failure also may occur if lungs cannot properly remove waste gas such as carbon dioxide form you blood. Accumulation of too much carbon dioxide may harm your body organ. Both of these condition oxygen level become low and carbon dioxide level become increase at same time

Types of acute respiratory failure

Acute respiratory failures are generally two types. These are hypoxemic and hypercapnic. Chronic respiratory failures are also two types. Both of the condition may trigger serious complication.


It is one types of acute respiratory failure. In this condition there is insufficient oxygen present in your blood but the near normal carbon dioxide.


It is another acute respiratory failure. In this condition there is elevated carbon dioxide present in your blood.

Causes of acute respiratory failure


Injuries that impair your respiratory system may adversely affect the amount of the oxygen into blood. If you have any injury into spinal cord or the brain, that can immediately affect to your breathing. Normally the brain signal the lungs for breathe. If brain may affected by injury or any other causes, the brain cannot relay the signal to lung. As a result the lungs cannot able to continue their function properly.

Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome

It is another major cause of acute respiratory failure. The acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome is a serious condition that describe as low oxygen into blood. Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome may affect you if you already have some underlying health problems like pneumonia and inflamed liver. This condition can occur while you are in hospital being treated for this disease.

Drug or Alcohol Abuse

Drug or Alcohol Abuse is another major cause of acute respiratory failure. If you consume too much alcohol or overdose on drug, you can impair brain function. In this condition your brain does send any signal to your lung for breathe.

Chemical Inhalation

Inhaling toxic substrate or chemical, smoke, fumes that may causes acute respiratory failure. Those chemical can damage or injure the tissue of the lungs including capillaries and air sac.


It is one of the major causes of acute respiratory failure. Stroke occurs when the brain tissues are damage or death on one or both side of your brain. Normally it affects on one side of the brain. Normally stroke does present few warning signs and it typically happen so quick time. If you have a stroke then you have a great risk to develop acute respiratory failure.

Risk factors of acute respiratory failure

Some risk factors that may responsible for acute respiratory failure including:

  1. Smoking.
  2. Consumption excessive amount of alcohol.
  3. Family history of respiratory disease.
  4. Injury in head.
  5. Become injure d in spine.
  6. Become injured in chest.
  7. Lung cancer.
  8. Chronic respiratory disease.

Symptoms of acute respiratory failure

Some common symptoms that may responsible for the acute respiratory failure including:

  1. Inability to breathe.
  2. Bluish coloration on skin.
  3. Passing out.
  4. Rapid breathing.
  5. Air hunger (feeling cannot get much oxygen).
  6. Blue skin.
  7. Confusion.
  8. Sleepiness.
  9. Bluish color in lip.
  10. Shortness of breath.

Diagnosis of acute respiratory failure

It is possible to diagnosed acute respiratory failure by using some medical tools including:

Medical history

It is one of the important ways to find out acute respiratory failure. Doctor will ask about your recent condition or disease that may lead to acute respiratory failure. Example lung disease may cause the acute respiratory failure.

Physical exam

During physical exam doctor will observe for the sign and symptoms of acute respiratory failure and also its underlying condition. Acute respiratory failure may causes air hunger, shortness of breath and rapid breathing. Doctor can listen your abnormal sound of your lungs by using stethoscope.

Doctor may also observe your sign of irregular heartbeat. If your heart does not get enough oxygen then arrhythmia happens.

Doctor may also look your bluish color on your fingernail, skin and lip. An bluish color means that your blood has a low level of oxygen.

Other diagnostic test

  1. Physical exam.
  2. Personal health history.
  3. Chest X-ray to find out abnormal tissue in your lung.
  4. Checking body oxygen level.
  5. Observe carbon dioxide level in blood.

Treatment of acute respiratory failure

Treatment of respiratory failure is depending upon condition of the disease. Emergency medical treatment is required due to acute respiratory failure. On other hand long term medical treatment is required due to chronic respiratory failure.

Oxygen therapy

If you have acute respiratory failure then you must take or receive oxygen therapy. The extra oxygen is given through the nasal cannula. It is major treatment for acute respiratory failure.


You may give fluid to improve the blood flow throughout body and also provide nutrition. Normally your doctor will prescribe you about the right amount of fluid.


For severe cases surgeries is required. It is the last line treatment of the acute respiratory failure.

All Comments

  • Very detailed post with exact diagram. Helpful for medical student and biochemist.

    Nick Allen January 3, 2017 3:38 pm Reply

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