How Long Can a Person Stay on a Respirator?

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A respirator can be used for short-term or long-term care. There is not a specified time limit for a person to remain on a respirator (intubated). However, doctors try to wean a patient off a respirator (extubate) as soon as possible to prevent possible long term negative effects. Understanding the reasons for intubation and the potential long term effects of respirator usage allows the patient and/or his family to make the best medical choices.


  • As a short term medical device, a mechanical respirator is used during surgery. Long term usage is when a person is in a coma and unable to breathe on his own. This is generally following an accident or medical emergency.


  • Following an accident and beginning recovery, a person is weaned off a ventilator over a period of hours, days or weeks. The process is gradual until the patient's medical condition is stable, and he should then be able to breathe on his own.

Short Term Effects

  • A person who has been intubated is unable to speak because the respirator's tube pass through his vocal chords. A sore throat is the most common short-term side effect of an artificial respirator.

Long Term Effects

  • Dehydration is common as the person is unable to drink or swallow on his own, causing the need for introduction of fluids through a feeding tube. Infections can occur due to influx of germs into a person's system through the breathing apparatus. A study completed by the Pennsylvania School of Medicine shows that "muscle atrophy" begins in "as little as eighteen hours" when a patient is on a ventilator. Other symptoms may include collapsed lungs or lung damage and side effects from various medications.


  • The "Iron Lung" was first introduced into the medical society in 1927. The device forced air into and out of a patient's lungs, giving him the ability to prolong his life.


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