Ventilator-Associated Pneumonia

What is ventilator-associated pneumonia?

Ventilator-associated pneumonia (VAP) is a lung infection. It can happen while you are using a machine called a ventilator to help you breathe. The ventilator helps you breathe by giving oxygen through a tube. The tube may be placed in your mouth or nose or through a hole in the front of your neck made by a healthcare provider. You may need a ventilator if you have:

  • A major injury that keeps you from breathing on your own
  • A serious illness, such as a stroke or severe infection
  • Some kinds of surgery, such as coronary artery bypass surgery

What is the cause?

When you are on a ventilator, your risk of lung infection is higher because:

  • It’s easier for bacteria to get into your lungs through the ventilator tube. This is especially true if the tube goes through your mouth into your windpipe.
  • Your lungs and airways are not able to do their usual job of keeping the lungs healthy by coughing and moving mucus up and out of your mouth.
  • Saliva and stomach juices can get into your airways and lungs. These fluids can damage the lungs and make it more likely that you will get a lung infection.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may include:

  • Fever and chills
  • Cough
  • Feeling short of breath
  • Chest pain

You may have a lot of mucus that is tan, yellow, green, or bloody. If you cannot cough, your caregivers may need to remove the mucus with a small tube attached to suction.

How is it diagnosed?

If you are on a ventilator, your caregivers will carefully watch for symptoms of pneumonia. Tests may include:

  • Blood tests
  • Sputum culture, which is a test of a sample of mucus coughed up or suctioned from deep in your lungs
  • Chest X-ray

How is it treated?

VAP is treated with antibiotics. You may need to take antibiotics for 2 weeks or more.

How can I help prevent VAP?

It’s usually not possible to avoid being on a ventilator, if your condition requires it. However, once you are on the ventilator, there are several things that healthcare providers are expected to do to prevent VAP. These include:

  • Cleaning their hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub before examining you or adjusting your medical equipment
  • Cleaning the inside of your mouth regularly
  • Keeping the head of your bed raised 30 to 45 degrees unless your condition prevents it
  • Checking daily to see if you can breathe without the ventilator
  • Cleaning or replacing equipment when needed
  • Suctioning mucus from your lungs to help you breathe and keep the tube from getting blocked

You or your family members should speak up about any concerns about your care when you are in the hospital.

Your visitors should not touch any of the equipment without checking with the staff. Also, they should not come to see you when they are ill.

An important factor that you can control is smoking. Smokers have more infections and heal more slowly. If you are planning to have surgery and you smoke, you should stop 6 to 8 weeks before the surgery. This helps prevent breathing problems during and after surgery.

How can I help take care of myself?

After you leave the hospital:

  • Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your healthcare provider. If you are taking an antibiotic, take the medicine for as long as your healthcare provider prescribes, even if you feel better. If you stop taking the medicine too soon, you may not kill all of the bacteria and you may get sick again.
  • Drink more liquids (water or tea) every day to help you cough up mucus more easily–unless your provider says you need to limit fluids because of another medical condition you have.
  • Gently cough up lung secretions as much as possible. Use cough medicine only if your provider recommends that you take it.
  • Use a humidifier to put more moisture in the air. Avoid steam vaporizers because they can cause burns. Be sure to keep the humidifier clean, as recommended in the manufacturer’s instructions. It’s important to keep bacteria and mold from growing in the water container.
  • Don’t smoke, and stay away from others who are smoking.
  • Avoid breathing dust and chemical fumes.
  • Get extra rest.

Ask your provider:

  • How and when you will hear your test results
  • How long it will take to recover
  • If there are activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
  • How to take care of yourself at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them

Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup. Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-09-24
Last reviewed: 2014-09-24
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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