Respiratory therapist putting an oxygen mask on a patient

The Benefits of Respiratory Therapists

Last updated: September 2023

My regular readers know I'm a respiratory therapist (RT). So, what exactly do we do to help people with COPD?

How respiratory therapists help patients with COPD

Here's a list of seven things we do to assist you.

General care

Most respiratory therapists are found in a hospital setting. If you have a flare-up and require the services of a hospital, chances are you will meet a respiratory therapist. We give breathing treatments to help you breathe easier.

We set up machines like BiPAP to assist with breathing when needed. We also help manage ventilators if you cannot breathe on your own. Our job is to ensure you get the right amount of oxygen and help you breathe easier during your stay.

Oxygen qualification tests

When your doctor thinks you might need home oxygen therapy, they will probably order a qualification test. This will measure your oxygen levels when you are at rest to see if you require oxygen while resting.

We will also check if you need oxygen during activities like walking. If the test indicates that home oxygen therapy would help, I'll figure out how much oxygen you need. After you get the equipment, a respiratory therapist will teach you how to use it all.

Smoking cessation

We have special training to talk to COPD patients about the dangers of smoking and why it's essential to quit. We take the time to explain the harmful effects smoking has on their lungs and overall health.

Afterward, we work closely with them to find the best strategies for quitting smoking. This can include discussing nicotine replacement therapies, support groups, and setting up a quit plan tailored to their needs and preferences.

Breathing tests

Today, the gold standard for diagnosing COPD is the pulmonary function test (PFT). If your doctor suspects COPD, they will probably ask for this test.

Where I work, it is a respiratory therapist who performs this test. You might do different breathing exercises during it, and the results will help determine if you have COPD and its severity.

COPD education

Well-informed patients are better equipped to manage their condition effectively. So, once you have your diagnosis, a respiratory therapist will educate patients and their caregivers about COPD and how it may progress over time.

Although we will also educate you about efforts that you can make to slow the progression, such as taking your medicines every day and staying physically active, we may also help you create a COPD action plan, which I will cover in the next section.

COPD action plans

As part of COPD education, we also cover COPD action plans. These plans are usually written on a single sheet of paper and kept in an easily accessible spot, like the refrigerator.

When you experience new or worsening symptoms, such as chest tightness, shortness of breath, increased sputum, or cough, we strongly recommend referring to your action plan. It can provide guidance on the best steps to take next: adjusting your treatment, using your rescue medicine, starting prednisone, contacting your doctor, or calling 911. Your action plan ensures you make the right choices to manage your COPD effectively.

6-minute walk test

This is also known as 6MWT. Respiratory therapists use this test to see how well you can walk and breathe for six minutes. We check your vital signs and oxygen levels while you walk. It helps us understand how COPD affects your daily activities and if you need oxygen during exercise. This test is important because it shows your physical abilities and helps us adjust your treatment to improve your quality of life.

We are your COPD allies

We RTs have the opportunity to work not only in hospitals but also in various other settings. But, as you can see above, we play a vital role in the lives of anyone with COPD.

Whether administering breathing treatments, setting up life-saving equipment, or providing essential education, our mission is clear: to help you breathe easier and lead a healthier, more fulfilling life.

Tell us about your experiences with your respiratory therapist. We'd love to hear from you! Share your thoughts in the comments below.

By providing your email address, you are agreeing to our privacy policy.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Join the conversation

Please read our rules before commenting.

Community Poll

Do you feel comfortable asking your doctor questions about your COPD?