Respiratory failure is a condition in which the lungs are unable to absorb enough oxygen (hypoxia) and expel enough carbon dioxide (hypercarbia/hypercapnia) to maintain the health of the rest of the body’s organs. The brain and the heart are most liable to rapid injury due to such failure.
In children, the condition is usually caused by something congenital or resulting from infection. It can be acute — coming on suddenly, or chronic — slowly developing and lasting a long time.
Respiratory distress and, ultimately, respiratory failure can occur because of upper airway obstruction (due to croup, anaphylaxis, or a foreign body), lower airway obstruction (due to bronchitis or asthma), lung tissue damage (due to pneumonia or pulmonary edema), or a disorder in breathing control (due to intracranial pressure, poisoning or a neuromuscular disease).
The intent of treatment is first to increase oxygen levels and decrease carbon dioxide levels in the blood. Secondly, the cause of the failure will be diagnosed and treated accordingly.