Intubation is the process of inserting a tube, called an endotracheal tube (ET), through the mouth and then into the airway. This is done so that a patient can be placed on a ventilator to assist with breathing during anesthesia, sedation, or severe illness. The tube is then connected to a ventilator, which pushes air into the lungs to deliver a breath to the patient.
Intubation is done because the patient cannot maintain their airway, cannot breathe on their own without assistance, or both. They may be going under anesthesia and will be unable to breathe on their own during surgery, or they may be too sick or injured to provide enough oxygen to the body without assistance.
Purpose of Intubation
Intubation is required whengeneral anesthesia is given. The anesthesia drugs paralyze the muscles of the body, including the diaphragm, which makes it impossible to take a breath without a ventilator.
Most patients are extubated, meaning the breathing tube is removed, immediately after surgery. If the patient is very ill or having difficulty breathing on their own, they may remain on the ventilator for a longer period of time.
After most procedures, a medication is given to reverse the effects of anesthesia, which allows the patient to wake quickly and begin breathing on their own.
For some procedures, such as open-heart procedures, the patient isn’t given the medication to reverse anesthesia and will wake slowly on their own. These patients will need to remain on the ventilator until they are awake enough to protect their airway and take breaths on their own.
Intubation is also performed for respiratory failure. There are many reasons a patient may be too ill to breathe well enough on their own. They may have an injury to the lungs, they might have severe pneumonia, or a breathing problem such as COPD.
If a patient cannot take in enough oxygen on their own, a ventilator may be necessary until they are once again strong enough to breathe without assistance.