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Respiratory Failure

What is Respiratory Failure?

Respiratory failure, also known as respiratory acidosis, is a condition that occurs when the lungs cannot remove all of the carbon dioxide the body produces. As a result, body fluids become too acidic. 


Symptoms may include: 

  • Confusion 
  • Easy fatigue 
  • Lethargy 
  • Shortness of breath 
  • Sleepiness 


Exams and tests to diagnose respiratory failure include:

  • A chest x-ray or CT scan 
  • Pulmonary function tests 
  • Arterial blood gas test 


Treatment is aimed at the underlying lung disease, and may include: 

  • Bronchodilator drugs to reverse some airway obstruction 
  • Methods to stop smoking 
  • Non-invasive positive-pressure ventilation, or mechanical ventilation if needed 
  • Oxygen if the blood oxygen level is low 


How well you do depends on the disease causing the respiratory failure. 

Respiratory Failure is managed by physicians, nurses and other clinical staff in the Division of Pulmonary Medicine at Hopkins Children’s.