Intubation is the process of inserting a tube, called an endotracheal tube (ET), through the mouth and then into the airway. It’s also known as Endotracheal intubation. 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. In emergency situations, the patient is often unconscious at the time of this procedure.
It is often used when patients are critically ill and cannot maintain adequate respiratory function to meet their needs. The endotracheal tube facilitates the use of a mechanical ventilator in these critical situations.
The most widely used route is orotracheal, in which an endotracheal tube is passed through the mouth and vocal apparatus into the trachea. In a nasotracheal procedure, an endotracheal tube is passed through the nose and vocal apparatus into the trachea. Other methods of intubation involve surgery and include the cricothyrotomy (used almost exclusively in emergency circumstances) and the tracheotomy, used primarily in situations where a prolonged need for airway support is anticipated.
Tracheal intubation can be associated with minor complications such as broken teeth or lacerations of the tissues of the upper airway. It can also be associated with potentially fatal complications such as pulmonary aspiration of stomach contents which can result in a severe and sometimes fatal chemical aspiration pneumonitis, or unrecognized intubation of the esophagus which can lead to potentially fatal anoxia. If the tube is by chance placed in the esophagus (right behind the trachea), adequate respirations will not occur. Brain damage, cardiac arrest, and death can occur. Placement of the tube too deep can result in only one lung being ventilated and can result in a pneumothorax as well as inadequate ventilation.