Explained: The difference between being put on ventilator and oxygen supply

The clarification comes after news broke of UK prime minister Boris Johnson being admitted into intensive care last evening

By Shajar Khan

Published: Tue 7 Apr 2020, 2:00 PM

Last updated: Wed 8 Apr 2020, 3:16 AM

Earlier this morning, senior cabinet member Michael Gove put out a clarification on UK premier Boris Johnson's condition, saying the prime minister was on oxygen support and not on a ventilator.
With the Covid-19 pandemic statistics increasing globally, many who have tested positive for the virus and are critically ill require oxygen support or are put on ventilators to assist them with breathing.
As the British minister noted, however, there is a difference between the two.
A ventilator is invasive, as a tube is introduced into the lungs through the patient's mouth and throat. The other end of the tube is attached to a machine that pushes air in and out of the lungs.
The process of the exchange of gases between lungs and ambient air is known as ventilation in respiratory physiology.
The ventilator mimics respiration and aids in breathing. In most cases, the machine completely takes over breathing so that the patient can rest and allow their body to heal.
The machine has various settings that can be adjusted to control lung pressures, oxygen concentration, and duration and frequency of breaths to cater to individual patients' needs.
Oxygenation, on the other hand, is an artificial process of providing oxygen when a patient's organs or tissues are in a state of hypoxia (that is, when there is a deficiency in the amount of oxygen reaching these areas). Oxygen supply alters the concentration of oxygen in the air we breathe. This means that instead of the normal 21%, a higher percentage of oxygen can be provided to the patient. The patient is still responsible for his/her own breathing. Unlike the ventilator, oxygen therapy will not aid in respiration.
Oxygenation also refers to the treatment of a patient by combining medication and other substances with oxygen. The treatment is a non-invasive measure to aid breathing. There are no tubes that are introduced into the body, as oxygen is given via a face mask or nasal cannula.

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