Acute Respiratory Acidosis

Respiratory Acidosis is a life-threatening ailment that affects the human respiratory system. This occurs when there is an imbalance in the production and excretion of carbon dioxide. In other words, standard human breathing patterns are altered when there are disparities during the initiation of ventilation and gas exchange at the alveolar-capillary interface. This ailment also takes two varying forms: acute respiratory Acidosis and chronic respiratory Acidosis. They are both common in children and adults. But this article will focus on acute respiratory Acidosis and all it entails. 

What is Acute Respiratory Acidosis?

Acute Respiratory Acidosis occurs due to a sudden increase in carbon dioxide caused by a lack of ventilation in the lungs. Mostly called type II respiratory failure. Carbon (II) oxide is a waste gas that anyone with a functioning respiratory system would easily breathe out. If this gas remains in the body, it can disrupt the body’s ideal acid-base balance. Thus, making it more acidic. The residual air mixes with the water in the body to form carbonic acid. Some people suffering from chronic respiratory Acidosis are also susceptible to having acute respiratory Acidosis when a sudden ailment changes their body’s pH balance and overall condition, such as pneumonia, stroke, inhalation of toxic fumes, drug overdose, etc. 

Note: The narrow pH level of the body for normal function is around 7.35-7.45, with the average at 7.40. A lower pH number shows a higher acid level, while a higher pH number shows a higher base level. 

Anyone with acute respiratory Acidosis needs immediate medical care for the following: to help restore standard breathing rate, identify the cause and proffer solutions to the respiratory disorder, and stabilize the acid-base level of the body. Otherwise, further complications may result in poor organ function, especially with the lungs, respiratory failure, shock, or even death on severe occasions. 

Symptoms of Acute Respiratory Acidosis

Like every respiratory disease, acute respiratory Acidosis has varying symptoms to indicate its presence. The symptoms of acute respiratory Acidosis generally emanate from increased CO2 within the body. Unlike chronic respiratory Acidosis that has delayed signals, one can quickly notice the symptoms of acute respiratory Acidosis. Although most people who experience acute respiratory Acidosis are frequently already hospitalized for another ailment, it is advisable to seek immediate help if you notice any of the symptoms below. They include:

● Confusion

● Muscle jerking

● Drowsiness

● Shortness of breath

● Sweating

● Lethargy

● Anxiety

● Fatigue

● Warm and flushed skin.

Common Causes of Acute Respiratory Acidosis

Since it’s a sudden surge or accumulation of carbon dioxide in the lungs, the common causes of acute respiratory Acidosis are more clear-cut. They include:

● Severe asthma attacks

● Overdose medication

● Cardiac arrest (heart attack)

● Stroke or other cerebrovascular accidents.

● Myasthenic crisis: When your voluntary muscles become weak or lose control of them. 

● Exacerbated chronic pulmonary disease.

● Blocked airways: This can lead to difficulty in breathing.

● Trauma

● Guillain-barre syndrome: A not-so-common neurological disorder that happens when the immune system attacks itself. This can also result in full-body paralysis or trouble eating well. 

● Infection: Respiratory diseases, such as respiratory syncytial virus infection, can lead to ARA.

● Bronchiolitis

● Severe obesity causes lung congestion.  

Diagnosing Acute Respiratory Acidosis

Testing for acute respiratory Acidosis is mainly done after a patient has been resuscitated since it’s an emergency. The aftermath diagnosis is to ensure there would be no further complications. And the diagnostic goals for acute respiratory Acidosis are:

● To test for pH imbalance

● To identify the severity of the imbalance and the causative agents behind it.

Medical practitioners employ several tools and techniques while diagnosing Acute respiratory Acidosis. They include:

●    Arterial Blood gas measurement: Used to ascertain the oxygen and carbon dioxide level in the blood. 

● Testing Electrolytes to measure the amount of some minerals and salts in the body, such as bicarbonate, sodium, chloride, and potassium. Result: People with acid-base disorders may have more (higher or lower) ions. 

● Lung test to measure the functionality of the lungs when they are: inhaling and exhaling air and transferring oxygen into the bloodstream. Furthermore, these lung tests may include:

a. Spirometry: when a healthcare professional propels you to breathe in and out of a spirometer. The spirometer is a respiratory-based device that measures how much air you inhale and exhale from your lungs. 

b. Lung expansivity test: The medical practitioner measures the capacity of your lungs and how much air it can hold by having you sit in an enclosed booth while you take calculated breaths, in and out. 

c. Gas diffusion test: The medical practitioner will measure gasses moving from your lungs into the bloodstream by having you breathe a safe amount of Carbon dioxide via a mouthpiece that is connected to a machine. 

d. Exercise test: This test is used to ascertain how your lungs function while engaging in vigorous physical activities. It could be running to a designated destination or using a sports bike while a monitor keeps track of your blood pressure and overall heart rate. 

● Chest X-ray to help identify skeletal or muscular problems that may have caused the sudden Respiratory Acidosis. 

● Drug testing

● A complete blood count (CBC)

●    Basic metabolic test: To check for your body’s acid level, which may be due to kidney issues, diabetes, or other diagnosed conditions.

Treatment of Acute Respiratory Acidosis

As mentioned earlier, when the patient has been stabilized, ARA treatment aims to tackle the already-existing cause. This may include:

● Bronchodilator medication and corticosteroids to clear the airway.

● Artificial ventilation via a breathing machine called BiPAP.

● Supportive care focused on mitigating further complications and treatment for already-existing ailments. 

● Increase oxygen delivery if the body’s blood oxygen level is low. 

● If the condition gets worse, a healthcare professional may insert a tube into the airway to aid ventilation. 

How to Prevent Acute Respiratory Acidosis

There is no one way to prevent acute respiratory Acidosis completely. But you can reduce your risks of an emergency by doing the following:

● Seek immediate medical attention when you experience any traumatic event or suffer from an illness.

● Please refrain from smoking because it reduces your lung capacity and makes you susceptible to respiratory diseases. You can also reduce your exposure to carbon monoxide and toxic fumes.

● Get a flu vaccine annually and a pneumonia vaccine once every five years. Seek professional medical advice before taking the pneumonia vaccine, especially if you have an underlying health problem.

● Quit alcohol. Chronic alcohol intake can affect your lungs’ function. 

● Monitor and manage your weight. Obesity is one of the salient causes of acute respiratory Acidosis. 

● Reduce intake of sedatives. They can obstruct standard breathing patterns. And if you must take any, do the following to protect your respiratory system:

a. Read and follow instructions on the label.

b. Do not consume above the prescribed dosage.

c. Do not mix with alcohol.


Acute respiratory Acidosis is a respiratory disorder that can affect the young and the old. While this article provides comprehensive information about the subject, it is not medical advice.

Hence, we advise you to seek proper medical advice from our team in Cambridge Medical & Rehabilitation Center when necessary.