The mechanical properties of the lungs and chest wall dictate the relationship between tidal volume, flow rate and airway pressure developed during intermittent positive pressure ventilation (IPPV). The increase in intrathoracic pressures associated with IPPV has consequences for the intrapulmonary distribution of ventilation and perfusion (hence gas exchange), cardiac output and regional blood flows. Barotrauma is a potential hazard. IPPV also affects the homeostatic mechanisms that keep the air spaces dry. Strategies to maximise the benefits and minimise the side effects of IPPV include positive end-expiratory pressure, intermittent mandatory ventilation, differential lung ventilation and high frequency ventilation. Understanding the physiological effects of IPPV and associated therapies allows a rational approach to the adjustment of ventilation against pulmonary, cardiovascular and systemic responses so as to optimise gas exchange and peripheral oxygen delivery.