Respiratory therapy involves caring for patients with chronic breathing problems and lung issues. Factors that cause respiratory problems such as lung cancer, pneumonia, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are often treated by respiratory therapy interventions. The American Thoracic Society states that the most common diseases needing respiratory therapy include severe asthma, COPD, interstitial or fibrotic lung diseases, pneumonia, lung cancer, lung infections, and bronchiolitis.
Respiratory therapy can also help improve the breathing of premature babies. According to the March of Dimes, 1 in 10 babies born in the U.S. is born prematurely. Many of these premature babies will need assistance breathing well into the first months of life, and some will require respiratory therapy even after they leave the intensive care unit and go home.
Who performs Respiratory Therapy?
A respiratory therapist (RT) specializes in treating patients who require respiratory therapy. They work as part of a team to help diagnose lung and breathing problems and help people improve their respiratory health and day-to-day lung function. RTs’ must have a broad knowledge of how the body works, specifically the lungs, and are part of a medical team that diagnoses and treats patients.
Where do Respiratory Therapist Work?
They work in a variety of settings. They commonly work in hospital settings, including the emergency room, the intensive care unit, and the newborn or pediatric intensive care unit. Respiratory Therapists work with patients of all ages, ranging from premature infants with underdeveloped lungs to elderly patients with advanced heart and lung issues.
Outside of the hospital setting, respiratory therapists also work in pulmonary rehabilitation clinics and manage pulmonary rehabilitation centers. With the evolving pandemic and the rise in patients recovering from the Coronavirus, they may find themselves working in specialized clinics to treat Covid-19 ‘long haulers’. An RT can also work in doctors’ offices, sleep disorder clinics, and long-term care facilities. Careers in teaching, patient education, and roles within the medical devices industry are also new areas where respiratory therapists work.
What duties do Respiratory Therapist Perform?
Along with having extensive knowledge of the cardiopulmonary system, respiratory therapists must be experts in the machines and devices used to administer respiratory care treatments. This encompasses a variety of responsibilities.
Some responsibilities of respiratory therapists include:
- Managing life support mechanical ventilation systems
- Administering aerosol breathing treatments
- Monitoring equipment related to cardiopulmonary therapy
- Analyzing blood samples to determine levels of oxygen and other gases
- Evaluating patients for the need for supplemental oxygen
During the last week of October, Respiratory Therapists are celebrated and acknowledged for their dedication to patient care, promoting respiratory health, and being a vital part of the healthcare community.