You can live without water for a few days and without food for a few weeks. But without oxygen, you will suffer brain damage within a few minutes and die after about 9 minutes. Respiratory Therapists, also known as respiratory care practitioners, evaluate, treat and care for patients with breathing disorders..
Respiratory therapists treat all types of patients, ranging from premature infants whose lungs are not fully developed, to elderly people whose lungs are diseased. They provide temporary relief to patients with chronic asthma or emphysema and emergency care for patients who suffered heart failure or stroke, or are victims of drowning or shock. Respiratory therapists most commonly use oxygen or oxygen mixtures, chest physiotherapy and aerosol medications.
Therapists may place an oxygen mask or nasal cannula on a patient and set the oxygen flow at the level prescribed by a physician to increase a patient’s concentration of oxygen. Therapists also connect patients who cannot breathe on their own to ventilators, which deliver pressurized oxygen into the lungs. They insert a tube into a patient’s trachea, or windpipe, connect the tube to the ventilator; and set the rate, volume and oxygen concentration of the oxygen mixture entering the patient’s lungs.
Respiratory therapists perform techniques of bronchial hygiene to remove mucus from a patient’s lungs to make it easier for them to breathe. For example, during surgery, anesthesia depresses respiration so chest physiotherapy may be prescribed to help get the patient’s lungs back to normal and prevent congestion. Chest physiotherapy also is used on patients suffering from lung diseases that cause mucus to collect in the lungs, such as cystic fibrosis.
Therapists also test the capacity of the lungs and analyze the oxygen and carbon dioxide concentration, as well as the pH , a measure of the acidity or alkalinity level of the blood. To measure lung capacity, therapists have patients breathe into an instrument that measures the volume and flow of oxygen during inhalation and exhalation. To analyze oxygen, carbon dioxide and pH levels therapists draw an arterial blood sample, place it in a blood analyzer and relay the results to a physician.
Job opportunities are expected to to be very good, especially for respiratory therapists with cardiopulmonary care skills or experience. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of respiratory therapists is projected to grow 12 percent from 2014 to 2024, faster than the average for all occupations. This will heighten the incidence of cardiopulmonary disease, expanding role of respiratory therapists in the early detection of pulmonary disorders, case management, disease prevention, and emergency care.
The median annual wage for respiratory therapists was $58,670 in May 2016. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $42,490, and the top 10 percent earned more than $81,550.