Intubation is a procedure that can help save a life when someone can’t breathe. A healthcare provider uses a laryngoscope to guide an endotracheal tube (ETT) into the mouth or nose, voicebox, then trachea. The tube keeps the airway open so air can get to the lungs. Intubation is usually performed in a hospital during an emergency or before surgery.
Intubation is a process where a healthcare provider inserts a tube through a person’s mouth or nose, then down into their trachea (airway/windpipe). The tube keeps the trachea open so that air can get through. The tube can connect to a machine that delivers air or oxygen.
Intubation is also called tracheal intubation or endotracheal intubation.
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Intubation is necessary when your airway is blocked or damaged or you can’t breathe spontaneously. Some common conditions that can lead to intubation include:
Being intubated and being on a ventilator are related, but they’re not exactly the same.
Intubation is the process of inserting an endotracheal tube (ETT) into the airway (windpipe). The tube is then hooked up to a device that delivers air. The device can be a bag that a healthcare provider squeezes to push air into your body, or the device can be a ventilator, which is a machine that blows oxygen into your airway and lungs. Sometimes a ventilator delivers air through a mask, not a tube.
In some cases, healthcare providers may decide that it’s not safe to intubate, such as when there is severe trauma to the airway or an obstruction that blocks safe placement of the tube.
In such cases, healthcare providers may decide to open the airway surgically through your throat at the bottom of your neck. This is known as tracheostomy. When you have an endotracheal tube in place for more than a few days or are expected to have it for weeks, a tracheostomy is often necessary.
Most intubation procedures happen in the hospital. Sometimes emergency medical services (EMS) personnel intubate people outside the hospital setting.
During the procedure, healthcare providers will:
The endotracheal tube passes through the vocal cords, so you won’t be able to speak.
Also, you cannot swallow when intubated, so you can’t eat or drink. Depending on how long you’ll be intubated, your healthcare providers may give you nutrition through an IV or IV fluids or through a separate slim tube inserted in your mouth or nose and ending in your stomach or small bowel.
When the healthcare providers decide it is safe to remove the tube, they will remove it. This is a simple process called extubation. They will:
Intubation is a common and generally safe procedure that can help save a person’s life. Most people recover from it in a few hours or days, but some rare complications can occur:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Endotracheal intubation is a medical procedure that can help save a life when someone can’t breathe. The tube keeps the trachea open so air can get to the lungs. Intubation is usually performed in a hospital during an emergency or before surgery.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 09/24/2021.
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