respiratory therapy

Respiratory Therapy (RT) helps people with respiratory problems and breathing difficulties. Respiratory therapists are medical professionals who provide this type of treatment.

This article looks at the various types of respiratory therapy, the typical duties of a respiratory therapist, and how to tell if you need respiratory therapy.

Types of Respiratory Therapy

The specific roles and responsibilities of a respiratory therapist may vary by location.

emergency respiratory treatment

Respiratory therapists working in emergency or urgent care departments can assist with:

  • Ventilation: This includes the use of mechanical ventilation for patients who cannot breathe on their own.
  • Airway management: This includes assessing and finding an appropriate solution to any airway obstruction.
  • Monitor patients for respiratory symptoms
  • Intubation: This is the insertion of a flexible airway tube into the nose or mouth to move air in and out of the lungs.

Emergency department jobs vary widely, and things can change right away. Respiratory therapists working in this environment need to be able to think independently and respond quickly to situations.

Pediatric Respiratory Therapy

Respiratory therapists working in pediatrics may work with newborns or children with breathing disorders or difficulties.

Infants and children may have different needs than adults. Their treatment and care varies depending on their small size and the nature of their respiratory disease. Often, respiratory therapists who work with children spend more time with them than adults.

Adult Respiratory Therapy

Respiratory therapists may also work with adults with chronic respiratory conditions, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or sleep apnea. This may involve educating patients, teaching them to use medical equipment, and having them perform exercises, such as breathing exercises.

Geriatric Respiratory Therapy

Many chronic diseases that cause breathing problems and low oxygen levels disproportionately affect older adults. emphysema For example, (a progressive lung disease) and lung cancer are more common in people over the age of 65.

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Respiratory therapists working with older adults need to consider existing medical conditions and medications a person may be taking.

Respiratory Therapist Qualification

Respiratory therapists are not doctors, but they are qualified medical professionals with certifications that allow them to do their jobs. Most hospitals and other nursing facilities require respiratory therapists to have at least a bachelor’s degree.

What does a respiratory therapist do?

Respiratory therapists are trained to enable them to assess, treat and monitor people with respiratory illnesses and breathing problems.

What to Expect from a Respiratory Therapy Course

You can get respiratory treatment in a hospital (inpatient) or at home or in a clinic (outpatient).

Respiratory therapist duties may involve:

  • Assess your lungs or breathing disorder
  • Perform chest exam, analyze breath sounds, check vital signs (pulse, blood pressure, respiratory rate, temperature) and draw blood
  • Work with other healthcare professionals to determine the best treatment options
  • Ventilator and artificial airway management
  • Assist with bronchoscopy (a tube with a camera inserted through the nose or mouth to view the airway)
  • Monitoring patients with low oxygen levels or difficulty breathing
  • Teaching patients exercises to improve breathing
  • Teaching patients to use supplemental oxygen therapy equipment

Inpatient radiotherapy

In a hospital or other inpatient setting, you may need respiratory therapy to help you breathe if you cannot do it yourself. For example, if you are in intensive care after a severe asthma attack, breathing therapy may require supplemental oxygen to you.

Another example of someone who might need respiratory care in an inpatient setting is if they go to the emergency room for acute respiratory illness. For example, someone with severe COVID-19 symptoms may need a ventilator.

Outpatient radiotherapy

You can also receive respiratory therapy at home as part of a recovery program called pulmonary rehabilitation. If you experience shortness of breath or difficulty breathing due to a chronic medical condition, pulmonary rehabilitation can help you manage your symptoms.

This type of program usually begins outside the home and includes supervised exercise and an assessment by a respiratory therapist to determine if you need supplemental oxygen. People with chronic medical conditions may benefit from the use of supplemental oxygen at home.

If you have respiratory therapy at home, a respiratory therapist may teach you how to use your prescription medical equipment, such as an oxygen concentrator. If you can, you can continue to use the device independently. Most oxygen delivery devices have tubing that connects to the tip of the nose or to the mask.

How to know if you need respiratory therapy

A healthcare provider can determine if you could benefit from respiratory therapy. If you are concerned about breathing problems, it is imperative to speak with a healthcare provider to get a proper diagnosis.

You should never use supplemental oxygen without a prescription from a healthcare provider. Too little oxygen is bad for you, but so is too much.​​​

Conditions that may require respiratory therapy

You may benefit from respiratory therapy if you:

  • low oxygen content
  • A tracheostomy is required to place a breathing tube in the neck to allow air to enter your lungs
  • need a ventilator
  • have a chronic disease that causes breathing problems

Conditions that may cause you to need respiratory treatment include:

  • heart disease (diseases that affect the heart)
  • Heart failure (inability of the heart to pump enough blood to adequately supply the body)
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) (Irreversible Inflammatory Lung Disease)
  • COVID-19 (viral respiratory infection)
  • Sleep apnea (breathing stops and starts repeatedly during sleep)
  • Pneumonia (inflammation of the lungs caused by an infection)
  • Cystic fibrosis (a genetic disease that damages the lungs and digestive tract)
  • Severe asthma (a chronic lung disease with inflamed and narrowed airways)

What to Know When Looking for a Respiratory Therapist

If you will be receiving long-term breathing treatment for a chronic condition, it is important to choose someone you feel comfortable working with. Finding someone yourself can be daunting, so don’t hesitate to ask your primary care provider for advice.


Respiratory therapy may be necessary for people with breathing difficulties and in intensive care. You may also benefit from respiratory therapy if you have chronic heart or lung disease that causes difficulty breathing or shortness of breath.

A respiratory therapist can provide you with education and tools to better manage your symptoms. They can also monitor your progress and condition.

If you are in a hospital, nursing home, or other medical facility, you may work with a respiratory therapist. In some cases, you can also exercise at home and receive supplemental oxygen therapy.

VigorTip words

If you have trouble breathing or are short of breath, you may benefit from breathing therapy. You should consult your doctor to understand the cause of your symptoms and determine the best course of treatment. They may recommend a respiratory therapist.

A respiratory therapist can work with you to help you manage chronic breathing problems or low oxygen levels by giving you tools and exercises. If your healthcare provider prescribes supplemental oxygen, a respiratory therapist can teach you how to use the device if you plan to use it at home.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does it take to study as a respiratory therapist?

    Respiratory therapy education after high school takes two to four years. The process involves earning at least an associate’s degree prior to licensure or other certification.

  • Is Respiratory Therapy a Dying Field?

    Instead, the field is expected to grow in the coming years. However, more and more employers are demanding higher levels of education and expertise for new employees.

  • What is Respiratory Therapy Salary?

    According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for respiratory therapists in 2020 is $61,810 per year or $30.20 per hour.