Intraoperative hypoxaemia and postoperative respiratory complications remain the challenges of modern anaesthetic practice. Anaesthesia causes both depression of respiratory centres and profound changes of respiratory mechanics. Most anaesthetized patients consequently require mechanical ventilation and supplemental oxygen. Recent data suggest that intraoperative respiratory management of a patient can affect postoperative outcome. In this review, we briefly describe the mechanisms responsible for the impairment of intraoperative gas exchange and provide guidelines to prevent or manage hypoxaemia. Moreover, we discuss several aspects of mechanical ventilation that can be employed to improve patients' outcome.