Explaining Ventilators to Children

Lungs are the organs in our bodies that help us to breathe. As we breathe in, they get bigger like blowing up a balloon. They fill with fresh air and oxygen. Then, as we breathe out, stale air is released.  The oxygen helps to keep our tissues alive. 

Ventilators are medical machines that help a person’s lungs to breathe in and out if they cannot do it themselves. In a hospital, a ventilator is a machine that has an air tube coming out of it that goes into a person’s mouth and into their lungs. This tube provides oxygen and tells a very, very sick person when to breathe. The machine usually has a screen on top that doctors and nurses know how to read to help keep the person safe.

Sometimes a person’s lungs are very, very sick or very, very hurt and cannot breathe oxygen on their own. A doctor might use a ventilator to help their body get oxygen while the lungs have a chance to heal or recover.

Sometimes a person’s brain is very, very hurt or very, very sick and cannot tell their lungs to breathe air on their own. A doctor might use a ventilator to help their lungs continue to provide oxygen to the body while the brain has a chance to heal and recover.

When a person is on a ventilator, the doctors give the person medications to stay calm and sleep. This allows the person’s entire body to rest. This means the person usually cannot talk or respond to you.

It can sometimes look scary to see someone who has a ventilator helping them breathe. The machine can look very big and be very noisy. The machine is large and noisy because it does a lot of different things. It is helping to measure exactly how much air needs to go into the person’s lungs and how hot or cold the air going into the person’s lungs is to keep them alive.

Ventilators are very important machines.  Keeping our lungs breathing air in and out helps to keep oxygen flowing to our hearts, brains, and kidneys. 

When someone you know or love is getting help breathing on a ventilator, it is completely normal to have lots of questions. Doctors can help answer your questions and ease your fears around ventilators.

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