Acute respiratory failure is a condition that occurs when fluid builds up in the air sacs in your lungs. When that happens, your lungs cannot release oxygen (air) into your blood. In turn, your organs can’t get enough oxygen-rich blood to function. You can also develop acute respiratory failure if your lungs can’t remove carbon dioxide from your blood. Respiratory failure happens when the capillaries in your air sacs cannot properly exchange carbon dioxide for oxygen. The condition can be acute or chronic. In the case of acute respiratory failure, you will experience immediate symptoms from not having enough oxygen in your body. In most cases, this failure may lead to death if not quickly treated.