Respiratory failure occurs when the lungs fail to work; this condition is most often always a medical emergency.  Typically, when a person goes into respiratory failure, it means that they have very low oxygen levels or very high carbon dioxide levels in the lungs.  A blood test will need to be administered to detect which of these are occurring.


People who are experiencing respiratory failure will have extreme difficulty breathing.  They will be very short of breath and will usually experience a state of sleepiness or become lethargic.  For some, the skin will turn a bluish color.  To help facilitate breathing, and if the condition can be treated, the patient will most likely be put on a breathing machine or a ventilator so that the underlying causes and treatment plan can be resolved.


Respiratory failure is the result of long-standing lung disease.  Individuals who have had lung disease that has progressively gotten worse, or those who have severe cases of lung conditions can lead to this dangerous condition. In addition, alcohol abuse, obstruction of the airways resulting from a traumatic injury and an extreme back-up of blood (such as in the case of a pulmonary embolism) can also cause respiratory failure.


When an individual is experiencing respiratory failure, they are usually treated in the ER or Intensive Care Unit. If treatment can be given, oxygen is usually provided to the patient immediately and certain drugs are often administered to help with the condition.