Respiratory therapists are an essential part of the medical team. They work in hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare settings, providing respiratory therapy to help people with respiratory problems breathe more easily.

These professionals help individuals of all ages — from newborn babies to older adults in hospice care — who are experiencing breathing and airway problems. These issues can include chronic lung conditions, such as asthma and emphysema, or infectious diseases, such as COVID-19.

Together with doctors and nurses, they provide treatment, equipment, and support for patients. Respiratory therapists also educate people on how to adapt their lifestyle to help manage their condition and how to implement breathing techniques that improve their quality of life.

This article explores the different types of respiratory therapy and explains how to find a respiratory therapist.

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Respiratory therapy involves working with a respiratory therapist. These certified medical professionals specialize in caring for the lungs and respiratory system. They help individuals with breathing difficulties and pulmonary disease, which affects the lungs and respiratory system.

Therapy may involve a breathing assessment, exercise recommendations, and progress monitoring. For example, if an individual has low oxygen levels, this may signal that the respiratory system is not functioning correctly and that they would benefit from respiratory therapy.

In addition, respiratory therapists work with people who have tracheostomy tubes, which allow them to breathe without using their nose or mouth. These professionals also treat people who cannot breathe independently and use a machine called a ventilator that breathes for them.

However, they do not only work with individuals who need these high tech machines. Respiratory therapists also improve outcomes for those of any age with any temporary or chronic respiratory conditions.

For example, respiratory therapy for newborns may involve monitoring premature babies for breathing disorders. On the other hand, respiratory therapists may work with older adults who have acute or chronic diseases affecting the respiratory system.

Another aspect of respiratory therapy is educating people on treating and managing chronic lung diseases, including asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and pulmonary fibrosis.

Respiratory therapists may also help people living with chronic lung conditions by giving them physical activities that ease their breathing, making them more comfortable.

The role of respiratory therapists is evolving. Besides working in hospitals and clinics, they now work in community settings. These may include asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) clinics and community health centers to support those living with chronic lung conditions.

Long-term care

Almost 1 in 7 middle-aged and older individuals are living with chronic lung disorders. Therefore, older people and those requiring long-term care often need the support of respiratory therapy.

Therapy usually takes place in nursing facilities, rehabilitation hospitals, or other long-term care institutions. The patients at these places may have either acute or chronic respiratory diseases.


This type of respiratory therapy takes place in neonatal units and pediatric wards. One aspect of this care is monitoring newborns, especially premature babies, for breathing problems. In addition, for those born with a pulmonary condition, respiratory therapists help with treatment or the response to any emergency respiratory needs.

However, they do not only work with newborns and babies. Respiratory therapy within this field can also involve toddlers and older children.

Those with respiratory problems such as cystic fibrosis and asthma may benefit from respiratory therapy. Additionally, the respiratory therapist can educate children and their parents or caregivers on how best to manage the condition.

Pulmonary rehabilitation

Pulmonary rehabilitation can help people cope with the symptoms of chronic lung diseases, such as emphysema, asthma, pulmonary fibrosis, and chronic bronchitis.

Pulmonary rehabilitation therapists use a treatment, education, and exercise program to make it easier for those with chronic lung diseases to breathe and improve their quality of life.


Respiratory therapy is a growing field that is expanding into the treatment and management of sleep disorders. Although sleep disorders and respiratory problems may appear unrelated, issues such as sleep apnea can cause breathing difficulties.

Individuals experiencing sleep disorders may undergo polysomnography to study their sleep and diagnose sleep disorders. A respiratory therapist may be present for the test and, depending on the results, they may provide care to the individual.

Critical care

Critical care respiratory therapy occurs in a hospital. It can involve treating people in the emergency room or those recovering from heart surgery or lung failure.

Sometimes, complicated surgical procedures require the assistance of a respiratory therapist to ensure that the lungs function throughout and after the surgery.

Respiratory therapists work with individuals who need support from ventilators if they cannot breathe independently. Many factors may lead to someone needing a ventilator, including trauma or a particular disease.

However, managing an individual on a ventilator is complex. Although these machines can be lifesaving, placing someone on a ventilator too late or keeping them on for longer than necessary can cause severe complications. Therefore, respiratory therapists carefully monitor their patients to ensure that they are providing optimal care.

When choosing a respiratory therapist, it is important to opt for someone patient and compassionate, as they need to provide emotional support to both the individual requiring care and those close to them. In addition, they should understand the stress that everyone faces when coping with a loved one experiencing health problems.

It is also ideal to find someone with a passion for learning, as respiratory therapy is a field that is continually expanding and improving. A therapist who keeps abreast of current best practices is likely to know how to provide the optimal care.

Anyone who needs help choosing a respiratory therapist can consult a primary care doctor for advice.

Respiratory therapy is a field of treatment that helps individuals optimize their respiratory function, breathe more easily, and live more comfortably.

Respiratory therapists help diagnose, monitor, and treat conditions that affect the lungs and breathing in people of any age. They may work in long-term care, neonatal-pediatrics, pulmonary rehabilitation, polysomnography, or critical care units in healthcare facilities and the community.

Respiratory therapy involves a combination of treatments, education, and exercise programs. The therapy helps those with short-term problems or chronic lung diseases to breathe and improve their quality of life.