Respiratory therapists are healthcare professionals who primarily treat patients with conditions of the heart and lungs. Some common examples include asthma, COPD, cystic fibrosis, and pulmonary edema.

However, there are several secondary conditions that can also affect a patient’s cardiopulmonary health. Some examples include:

  • Chest trauma
  • Obesity
  • Near drowning
  • Burns

These aren’t quite as common, although they can lead to signs and symptoms that negatively impact the heart and lungs.

Therefore, these are also important topics for respiratory therapists (and students) to learn about. We created this study guide to help! So, if you’re ready, let’s get started.

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Treating Patients with Chest Trauma

Chest trauma is a term that can be used to describe any type of injury or trauma that occurs to the thoracic region. It could be caused by blunt trauma, falls, motor vehicle accidents, or penetrating trauma (e.g., knife or gunshot wound).

The treatment depends on the signs and symptoms of the patient. Some common examples include chest pain, shortness of breath, tachypnea, tachycardia, hypoxemia, and pneumothorax.

Treating Obese Patients

Obesity is a condition in which a person has an excessive amount of body weight in relation to height. It can lead to a number of serious health problems, including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.

Nearly 40% of adults are considered obese, and obesity is the second leading cause of preventable death in the United States.

Therefore, it’s important to understand how to treat obese patients as a respiratory therapist.

Respiratory Management

Hypoxemia is more prevalent in obese patients; therefore, supplemental oxygen is often indicated. Obesity is also linked to a higher risk for obstructive sleep apnea, which can be managed and treated with CPAP therapy.

Additionally, noninvasive ventilation (e.g., BiPAP or CPAP) is often indicated for the treatment of hypoventilation syndrome and hypercarbia. If intubation is required for invasive mechanical ventilation, it’s often more difficult in obese patients.

Treating an Obese Patient as a Respiratory Therapist

Treating Near Drowning Patients

Near drowning is a condition that results when a person is submerged in water to the point where they cannot breathe.

This can lead to cardiac arrest, brain damage, and even death. Asphyxia is the most common cause of death in drowning victims, which results in cardiopulmonary collapse.

Respiratory Management

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is common after a near-drowning event. Temperature management is also something that should be considered if the patient was submersed in cold water.

Airway clearance therapy may be indicated, including bronchoscopy, lavage, and prone positioning techniques.

Most near-drowning victims develop ARDS; therefore, the respiratory therapist must be able to recognize and treat the signs and symptoms. This usually involves mechanical ventilation with high levels of PEEP.

Treating Patients with Burns

Nearly half a million people in the United States each year require medical treatment for burn injuries. While many of these injuries are relatively minor, some can be life-threatening.

Burns can occur from a variety of sources, including fires, flammable gases, corrosive chemicals, electricity, radiation, and scalding water or steam.

As a respiratory therapist, there are some considerations that must be made when providing care for burn victims.

Respiratory Management

If a patient was injured in or near a fire, carbon monoxide poisoning is a common finding. Therefore, the patient should be treated with the highest possible FiO2 that is available.

Initially, a nonrebreathing mask can be used to administer up to 100% oxygen, but the goal should be to place the patient in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber.

Patients with smoke inhalation may also experience pulmonary burns within their airways. In this case, intubation and mechanical ventilation is required.

Why is this Topic Important?

We got the idea for this article from the Egan’s Fundamentals of Respiratory Care textbook. It’s what served as our primary resource for creating this study guide.

The authors of the book grouped these seemingly random conditions into one chapter (chapter 30) because each can affect a patient’s ability to breathe and perform gas exchange.

This explains why respiratory therapists must be familiar with these secondary conditions. We always recommend this textbook to every student who is enrolled in respiratory therapy school.

The Egan's book is known as the "Bible of Respiratory" and is highly recommended.

As an affiliate, we receive compensation if you purchase through this link.

Practice Questions about Trauma, Obesity, Near Drowning, and Burns:

1. What is drowning?
A term that refers to the suffocation and death as a result of submersion in liquid

2. What is near-drowning?
A situation in which a victim survives a liquid submersion, at least temporarily

3. What is dry drowning?
A type of drowning where the glottic closes and prevents water from entering the lungs

4. What is wet drowning?
A type of drowning where the glottis doesn’t close, which allows water to enter the lungs

5. What clinical manifestations occur from drowning?
Atelectasis, alveolar consolidation, increased alveolar-capillary membrane thickness, and bronchospasm

6. When should temperature management be performed?
Temperature management is something that should be considered if the patient was submerged in cold water for a period of time.

7. What types of airway clearance therapy may be indicated for a near-drowning victim?
Bronchoscopy, lavage, and prone positioning

8. Most near-drowning victims experience what?

9. Does drowning and near-drowning always lead to death?
Drowning always results in death. Many near-drowning victims survive, although death occurs in some cases.

10. What will the chest assessment of a near-drowning patient likely show?
Crackles and rhonchi

11. What will the arterial blood gas results of a near-drowning victim likely show?
Acute ventilatory failure with hypoxemia

12. What will the radiologic findings of a near-drowning patient likely show?
Fluffy infiltrates, pneumothorax, and pneumomediastinum

14. What is the primary goal during the transport of a near-drowning patient?
High-quality CPR with 100% oxygen

15. What do most near-drowning patients suffer from?
Hypoxemia, hypercapnia, and acidosis; it also often leads to ARDS

16. What anatomic alterations of the lung occur in near-drowning patients?
Laryngospasm/bronchoconstriction, interstitial edema, decreased levels of pulmonary surfactant, increased alveolar surface tension, atelectasis, and frothy white secretions.

17. Interstitial edema in near-drowning includes what?
It includes engorgement of the perivascular and peribronchial spaces, alveolar walls, and interstitial spaces.

18. Decreased surfactant causes what?
It causes increased venous admixture.

19. When can ARDS occur after a near-drowning incident?
It usually shows up 24-48 hours after the incident.

20. What is dry drowning?
It occurs when the victim passes out before inhaling any water, so the fluid doesn’t get into the distal airways.

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21. How many people drown each year in the United States?
Between 6,000 and 8,000 people

22. Children under the age of five account for what percentage of drowning deaths in the United States per year?

23. What percent of drowning deaths occur in persons between 5 and 20 years old?

24. About how many victims of near-drowning are hospitalized annually?
About 8,000 each year

25. Describe the drowning or near-drowning sequence?
(1) Panic or violent struggle to return to the surface, (2) Period of calmness and apnea, (3) Swallowing fluid and vomiting, (4) Gasping inspirations and aspiration, (5) Convulsing, (6) Coma, and (7) Death

26. What is the mammalian dive reflex?
It optimizes respiration to allow staying underwater for extended periods of time and is more apparent in young children.

27. What clinical data is often obtained at the bedside of a near-drowning victim?
Increased respiratory rate, heart rate, cardiac output, blood pressure; cyanosis; cough/ frothy secretions; crackles and rhonchi

28. What would the ABG results show for a near-drowning victim?
Acute ventilatory failure with hypoxemia; there would be combined acidosis with a decreased pH, increased PaCO2, decreased HCO3, and a decreased PaO2

29. What would a chest x-ray show on a near-drowning victim?
It would likely show fluffy infiltrates, pneumothorax, and pneumomediastinum.

30. What occurs during the management of a near-drowning patient?
CPR should be performed by the first responder during transport and at the hospital.

31. What are the two types of chest trauma?
Blunt trauma and penetrating trauma

32. What are the assessment findings of chest trauma?
Dyspnea, respiratory distress, cough with or without hemoptysis, cyanosis, tracheal deviation, decreased breath sounds on the side of the injury, decreased oxygen saturation, and frothy secretions

33. What are the cardiovascular findings of chest trauma?
A rapid thready pulse, decreased blood pressure, narrowed pulse pressure, asymmetric blood pressure values in the arms, distended neck veins, muffled heart sounds, chest pain, crunching heart sounds, and dysrhythmias

34. What are the surface findings of chest trauma?
Bruising, abrasions, open chest wound, and subcutaneous emphysema

35. What should you do first when someone has a chest wound?
Ensure that there is a patent airway, provide oxygen, ensure that there is IV access, and remove clothing to assess the injury

36. What side do you put the patient on?
Place the patient on the injured side

37. What is a pneumothorax?
A term that refers to air in the pleural space

38. What are the signs and symptoms of pneumothorax?
Dyspnea, decreased movement of the involved chest wall, diminished or absent breath sounds on the affected side, and hyperresonance to percussion

39. What is the treatment for a pneumothorax?
It may resolve on its own, or it may require the insertion of a chest tube insertion with a drainage system.

40. What is a hemothorax?
A term that refers to blood in the pleural space

41. What are the signs and symptoms of a hemothorax?
Dyspnea, diminished or absent breath sounds, dullness to percussion, decreased Hgb, and shock

42. What is the treatment for a hemothorax?
Chest tube insertion with a drainage system

43. What is a tension pneumothorax?
A term that refers to air in the pleural space that does not escape, which increases intrathoracic pressure and causes the organs to shift

44. What is a flail chest?
A term that refers to a fracture of two or more adjacent ribs in two or more places, with a loss of chest wall stability

45. What are the signs and symptoms of flail chest?
Paradoxical movement of the chest wall and respiratory distress

46. What is cardiac tamponade?
A condition where blood rapidly collects in the pericardial sac, compresses the myocardium, and prevents ventricular filling

47. What are the signs and symptoms of cardiac tamponade?
Muffled heart sounds, decreased output, hypotension, JVD, and increased central venous pressure

48. What is the treatment for cardiac tamponade?
It is a medical emergency that requires pericardiocentesis.

49. What is the most common type of injury that occurs from blunt trauma?
Rib fractures

50. What are the clinical manifestations of rib fractures?
Pain, shallow breaths, atelectasis, and pneumonia

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51. What are the clinical manifestations of a flail chest?
Tachypnea, tachycardia, asymmetric and uncoordinated movement of the thorax, and paradoxical chest movement

52. What does a chest tube do?
It drains the pleural space, drains air and fluid from the mediastinal space, and reestablishes negative air pressure.

53. What is a pleural effusion?
An abnormal collection of fluid in the pleural space

54. What are the clinical manifestations of a pleural effusion?
Muffled heart sounds, distant, trouble breathing, diminished breath sounds, and sharp chest pain that worsens with inhalation

55. What metabolic dysfunction is seen in obese patients?
Insulin resistance, hyperglycemia, dyslipidemia (increased triglycerides, decreased HDL), hypertension, proinflammatory state (increased cytokinesis), vascular disruption (increased VEGF), and increased leptin

56. What is the link between obesity and asthma?
Obese patients are twice as likely to have asthma than overweight patients.

57. What is obesity hypoventilation syndrome?
It is a type of severe obesity that is linked to hypoventilation during both waking and sleeping hours. It is also known as Pickwickian syndrome and is characterized by hypoventilation that leads to acidosis and hypoxemia.

58. What is more prevalent in obese patients?
Hypoxemia, asthma, and sleep apnea

59. What is different about performing intubation in obese patients?
It is more difficult.

60. The severity of burns is based on what?
The depth (degree) of the burn, percent of body surface area involved, location of the burn on the body, association with other injuries, patient’s age, causative agent, respiratory involvement, and overall health of the patient

61. How does the body respond to moderate or major burns?
Sympathetic nervous system manifestations, tachycardia, increased respiratory rate, decreased gastrointestinal motility, and increased blood glucose levels

62. What is needed for infection protection with moderate or major burns?
Maintain a protective environment, restrict plants and flowers due to the risk of contact with pseudomonas, restrict the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, limit visitors, monitor for manifestations of infection and report them to the provider, administer tetanus toxoids, administer antibiotics to treat the infection, monitor peak and trough levels, and use strict asepsis with wound care

63. What airway injuries can occur with burns?
They can result from steam or chemical inhalation, aspiration of scalding liquid, and external explosions while breathing. Their effects might not manifest for 24 to 48 hours. It includes progressive hoarseness, brassy cough, difficulty swallowing, drooling, copious secretions, adventitious breath sounds, and expiratory sounds that include audible wheezes, crowing, and stridor.

64. What should the respiratory therapist do to treat airway injuries that occur with burn victims?
They should provide support for the airway to maintain ventilation and administer supplemental oxygen. They should also educate the patient and family about airway management, such as deep breathing, coughing, and elevating the head of the bed.

65. What are the types of burn injuries that can occur?
Thermal burns, chemical burns, smoke inhalation, metabolic asphyxiation, and electrical burns

66. What is a secondary complication of burns that may occur 12-24 hours later?
Pulmonary edema due to inflammation of the airways

67. What are the three classifications of burns?
1) Superficial (1st degree), 2) Deep (2nd degree), and 3) Full thickness (3rd and 4th degree)

68. What are we concerned about with burns to the face, neck, and chest?
Burns may interfere with breathing, so you should be concerned with an obstructed airway.

69. What are we concerned about with burns to the ears and nose?
The patient is at an increased risk for infection due to low blood supply to those areas.

70. How do you manage a burn victim at the scene of the incident?
Remove the patient from the source of burning, stop the burning process, assess the patient’s ventilation status, and don’t put ice or cold water on the burns.

71. How should a patient with carbon monoxide poisoning be treated?
They should be treated with the highest possible FiO2 that is available. Anonrebreathing mask can be used to administer up to 100% oxygen, but the goal should be to place the patient in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber.

72. Patients with smoke inhalation may also experience what?
They may experience pulmonary burns within their airways, which may require intubation and mechanical ventilation.

73. The respiratory assessment of burns patients focuses on what?
The percentage of TBSA

74. What toxic gases are commonly inhaled in burns patients?
Carbon monoxide and cyanide

75. Burn victims can rapidly develop what?

Final Thoughts

If you were to picture a respiratory therapist on the job, you probably wouldn’t imagine them providing care for patients who are dealing with chest trauma, obesity, near drowning, and burns.

However, as previously mentioned, RTs are required to treat any disease process that impacts a patient’s cardiopulmonary status — including the secondary conditions that were mentioned throughout this study guide.

Thanks for reading and, as always, breathe easy, my friend.

Medical Disclaimer: This content is for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please consult with a physician with any questions that you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking it because of something you read in this article. We strive for 100% accuracy, but errors may occur, and medications, protocols, and treatment methods may change over time.


The following are the sources that were used while doing research for this article:

  • Faarc, Kacmarek Robert PhD Rrt, et al. Egan’s Fundamentals of Respiratory Care. 12th ed., Mosby, 2020. [Link]
  • Faarc, Heuer Al PhD Mba Rrt Rpft. Wilkins’ Clinical Assessment in Respiratory Care. 8th ed., Mosby, 2017. [Link]
  • Rrt, Des Terry Jardins MEd, and Burton George Md Facp Fccp Faarc. Clinical Manifestations and Assessment of Respiratory Disease. 8th ed., Mosby, 2019. [Link]
  • “The Effect of Obesity on Chronic Respiratory Diseases: Pathophysiology and Therapeutic Strategies.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, 25 Apr. 2006,
  • “The Management of near Drowning.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, 23 Nov. 1985,
  • “INHALATION INJURY: Pathophysiology, Diagnosis, and Treatment.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, 18 Apr. 2017,
  • “Ventilation in Chest Trauma.” PubMed Central (PMC), Apr. 2011,

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