The mortality for acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) remains unacceptably high. Success in clinical trials has been limited, resulting in a lack of effective therapies to treat the syndrome. The projected increase in mechanically ventilated patients and global need for critical care services suggests that the clinical and research landscape in ARDS can no longer be confined to the intensive care unit. A demonstrable minority of patients present to the emergency department (ED) with ARDS, and ARDS onset typically occurs shortly after intensive care unit admission. Furthermore, the ED is an entry point for many of the highest-risk patients for ARDS development and progression. These facts, combined with prolonged lengths of stay in the ED, suggest that the ED could represent a window of opportunity for treatment and preventive strategies, as well as clinical trial enrollment. This review aims to discuss some of the potential strategies that may prevent or alter the trajectory of ARDS, with a focus on the potential role the ED could play in reducing the burden of this syndrome.