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Intubation and mechanical ventilation is the use of a tube and a machine to help get air into and out of your lungs. This is often done in emergencies, but it can also be done when you are having surgery.
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What to Expect
Prior to Procedure
If your intubation and mechanical ventilation is being performed along with surgery and is planned:
- The night before, eat a light meal. Do not eat or drink anything after midnight.
- Ask your doctor about any other special directions.
In most cases, you will either be heavily sedated or under general anesthesia and asleep. Local anesthesia may be used to numb your throat. You may also receive a muscle relaxant. This is to prevent gagging when the tube is inserted.
Description of the Procedure
First, you will wear an oxygen mask for 2-3 minutes. This will ensure that you have enough oxygen in your system during the procedure.
The doctor will tilt your head back slightly. Then, the doctor will use a tool called a laryngoscope. The scope has a handle, a light, and a smooth dull blade. This tool is used to lift the tongue off the back of the throat so the doctor can see your vocal cords. When the doctor sees your vocal cords, he will stick one end of the breathing tube through them, down into your lower windpipe.
Once the tube is in position, the doctor will remove the scope and leave the tube in place. The tube will then be taped to the corner of your mouth. Next, the doctor will attach the tube to a ventilator machine. This machine will move air in and out of your lungs. It can adjust how quickly and how deeply you breathe. In some cases, the tube will be inserted through the nose instead of the mouth.
Immediately After Procedure
Right after the procedure, your doctor will:
- Do a chest x-ray to make sure the tip of the tube is positioned in the middle of your trachea
- Listen to your lungs to make sure that the air is going into them
- Measure the level of gases in your blood to make sure that the ventilation is working
How Long Will It Take?
Less than five minutes
How Much Will It Hurt?
The anesthesia will prevent pain during the procedure. The tube will cause discomfort and make you cough. It may also irritate your voice box and trachea.
Average Hospital Stay
This procedure is done in a hospital setting. The usual length of stay depends on why you are having the procedure.
While you are intubated, you will receive extra help from nurses and other hospital staff.
You will not be able to eat, drink, or talk until the endotracheal tube is removed. Before the doctor can remove the tube, you will need to:
- Be breathing on your own through the tube, without the ventilator attached. You may only be partially awake during this time.
- Have a satisfactory score on the Weaning Index, which measures:
- How often you take a breath
- How well oxygen is getting into your blood
- How much air you breathe in and out each time you take a breath
- If you need mechanical ventilation for more than a few weeks, a tracheotomy may be done. In this case, the airway tube is inserted through a hole made in your neck instead of your mouth or nose.
American Lung Association
Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America
The Canadian Lung Association
Beers, MH, Fletcher AJ, Jones TV, et al.
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Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: WB Saunders; 2005.
Mechanical ventilation. Anaesthesia & Intensive Care website. Available at:
. Updated May 2009. Accessed July 28, 2009.
Clinical Procedures in Emergency Medicine. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: WB Saunders; 2004.