Individuals enrolled in medical assisting programs should consider a career in respiratory therapy. Respiratory therapists treat patients suffering from disorders affecting their breathing. Some causes of these disorders include complications with the cardiopulmonary system such as asthma, emphysema, pneumonia, cardiovascular disorders and trauma. Respiratory therapists’ patients can range in age from infants (who have underdeveloped lungs) to seniors (who have cancer or other diseases of the lungs). Respiratory therapists can provide emergency care to patients who have suffered a stroke or heart attack.1 These healthcare professionals are also responsible for guiding their patients toward a healthy lifestyle, especially advising them on techniques for smoking cessation. The introduction of electronic cigarettes a few years ago seemed to be a benefit to smokers’ health, but recent studies have proven otherwise.2
Respiratory therapists manage a large part of their patients’ care
Respiratory therapists can be found in hospitals where they are responsible for providing care and life support to patients in intensive care units, general hospital areas, emergency rooms and the pulmonary diagnostics laboratory. These professionals have a big part to play in helping patients recover from illnesses that affect their lungs, and are often in charge of patients’ rehabilitation.
Some duties of respiratory therapists (RTs) involve diagnosing lung and breathing disorders and recommending treatment methods. They interview patients, perform chest exams and analyze tissue specimens. RTs are also trained to operate ventilators and artificial airway devices for patients who can’t breathe normally on their own. The respiratory therapist may also be the one who responds to Code Blue or other urgent calls in the emergency room.1
Employment for respiratory therapists is expected to grow
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of respiratory therapists is expected to grow faster than the average for all other occupations – 19 percent between 2012 to 2022.1 Several factors will contribute to the need for more RTs: The fact that the middle-aged and elderly populations tend to experience more respiratory problems, and that population is growing, will lead to an increased need for RTs. Incidences of respiratory conditions such as emphysema, chronic bronchitis, pneumonia, and other disorders that can permanently damage the lungs or restrict lung function are expected to rise in that population as well. These factors will in turn lead to an increased demand for respiratory therapy services and treatments, mostly in hospitals and nursing homes.
In addition, technological advances and the development of new medical procedures that are used to prevent and detect disease will require more RTs to administer them. Improvement in medications and using more sophisticated treatments will also increase demand. Another factor involves the rise in other conditions that affect the general population, such as air pollution, smoking and respiratory emergencies.1
E-Cigarettes are not saviors for smokers
Respiratory therapists are taking notice of the new trend in smoking: the use of e-cigarettes. Many smokers have turned to this alternative in the hopes of kicking their smoking habit, but a recent study shows that these devices might not be the best option for those who wish to quit.2
Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, analyzed whether electronic cigarettes are effective at helping smokers quit. For the study, researchers analyzed self-reported data from 949 smokers. Eighty-eight of those smokers had used electronic cigarettes before the study. The researchers found that that using the electronic cigarette did not increase the smokers’ chances of successfully quitting one year after the study was completed.2
According to Mitchell H. Katz, M.D., one of the researchers involved in the study, “Regulations should prohibit advertising claiming or suggesting that e-cigarettes are effective smoking cessation devices until claims are supported by scientific evidence.”2
E-cigarettes contain a liquid that is deadly if misused
Respiratory therapists can be responsible for suggesting smoking cessation techniques, and are aware that while many of their patients are using e-cigarettes, this is not an effective way to quit. Recently conducted research has found that the water vapor in those e-cigarettes can be extremely harmful.3
According to health officials, the unregulated “e-juice” found in electronic cigarettes can be poisonous. Warnings of the risk have been focused on protecting children, because there many accidental poisonings have occurred over the past few years. Children have been accidentally ingesting it because it reportedly tastes like bubble gum. Toxicologists are warning users that the e-juice’s bright colors and appealing scent can pose a threat to young children around the house.3
Last year there were 1,351 medical cases related to e-juices, and the National Poison Data System expects that number to double in 2014. The rise in popularity of e-cigarettes has contributed to the increased presence of the e-juice as well. When e-cigarettes were introduced to the market a few years ago, the only ones that were available offered a certain amount of “puffs” before they had to be disposed. Today, some brands can be purchased over the counter in convenience stores and offer about 400 to 500 puffs per use.3
How respiratory therapists can get involved
One of the duties of an RT is to counsel their patients about proper lung health, and a major component of that guidance is to encourage patients to quit smoking, for their health and their families’ wellbeing. Being aware of current reports on the risks of using e-cigarettes for smoking cessation will help RTs give their patients the best information possible, and hopefully assist patients in finding a better way to improve their health by quitting smoking.
1 “Respiratory Therapists,” Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/respiratory-therapists.htm#tab-2
2 Lees, Kathleen, “E-Cigarettes May Not Help You Give Up Smoking,” Science World Report.com, March 25, 2014, http://www.scienceworldreport.com/articles/13661/20140325/e-cigarettes-may-not-help-you-give-up-smoking.htm
3 Carannante, Thomas, E-Cigarette Liquid Nicotine Could be Deadly if Misused: FDA Regulations to Come, Science World Reports.com, March 26, 2014, http://www.scienceworldreport.com/articles/13679/20140326/e-cigarette-liquid-nicotine-deadly-misused-fda-regulations-come.htm