Acute respiratory distress syndrome

Fact Checked

Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is considered as a life-threatening condition in which the lungs could not provide sufficient oxygen for the entire body. This condition can affect individuals of any age and typically develops as a complication of a current health condition. Accordingly, most individuals have already been hospitalized by the time the symptoms manifest.

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What are the signs and symptoms?

  • Severe shortness of breath
  • Drowsiness, tiredness or confusion
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Feeling faint

Even though most cases of acute respiratory distress syndrome initially develop in a healthcare facility, it is not always the case. The condition might rapidly develop due to infections such as pneumonia or if an individual accidentally inhales his/her vomit. Call for emergency assistance right away if you notice any breathing issues in an adult or child.

Acute respiratory distress syndrome
ARDS develops if the lungs are significantly swollen as a result of an injury or infection.

What are the causes?

ARDS develops if the lungs are significantly swollen as a result of an injury or infection. The ensuing inflammation can cause fluid from adjacent blood vessels to seep out into the tiny air sacs in the lungs, thus making breathing more difficult.

The lungs are likely to become inflamed due to the following:

  • Severe case of flu or pneumonia
  • Severe chest injury
  • Blood poisoning
  • Near drowning
  • Accidental inhalation of smoke, vomit or toxic chemicals
  • Adverse reaction to blood transfusion
  • Acute pancreatitis

Management of acute respiratory distress syndrome

If an individual develops acute respiratory distress syndrome, he/she is admitted to an intensive care unit and placed under a ventilator that assists with breathing.

In some instances, it is also possible to utilize an oxygen mask to supply oxygen. Nevertheless, in severe cases, a tube is inserted down the throat and into the lungs to allow oxygen to be pumped in. Nutrients and fluids are supplied via a tube that goes straight into the stomach via the nose.

The underlying condition responsible for ARDS should be treated as well. If it is a bacterial infection, antibiotics might be prescribed. The length of time that the individual spends in a hospital usually depends on a case-to-case basis and the cause. Most cases are able to respond to treatment within days, but might take up to several weeks or even months before well enough to be released.

Quick Note / Disclaimer

The material posted on this page on acute respiratory distress syndrome is for learning and educational purposes only. To learn to recognize and manage breathing emergencies including acute respiratory distress syndrome, register for a first aid and CPR course with our training providers.

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