Patients with advanced COPD and acute or chronic respiratory failure are at high risk for death. Beyond pharmacological treatment, supplemental oxygen and mechanical ventilation are major treatment options. This review describes the physiological concepts underlying respiratory failure and its therapy, as well as important treatment outcomes. The rationale for the controlled supply of oxygen in acute hypoxic respiratory failure is undisputed. There is also a clear survival benefit from long-term oxygen therapy in patients withchronic hypoxia, while in mild, nocturnal, or exercise-induced hypoxemia such long-term benefits appear questionable. Furthermore, much evidence supports the use of non-invasive positivepressure ventilation in acute hypercapnic respiratory failure. It application reduces intubation and mortality rates, and the duration of intensive care unit or hospital stays, particularly in the presence of mild to moderate respiratory acidosis. COPD with chronic hypercapnic respiratory failurebecame a major indication for domiciliary mechanical ventilation, based on pathophysiological reasoning and on data regarding symptoms and quality of life. Still, however, its relevance for long-term survival has to be substantiated in prospective controlled studies. Such studies might preferentially recruit patients with repeated hypercapnic decompensation or a high risk for death, while ensuring effective ventilation and the patients' adherence to therapy.