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Reprinted from the May 1993 issue of RESPIRATORY CARE [Respir Care 1993;38(5):500–504]

AARC Clinical Practice Guideline

Endotracheal Suctioning of Mechanically Ventilated Adults and Children with Artificial Airways


Endotracheal suctioning is a component of bronchial hygiene therapy and mechanical ventilation and involves the mechanical aspiration of pulmonary secretions from a patient with an artificial airway in place. The procedure includes patient preparation, the suctioning event(s), and follow-up care.
2.1 Patient Preparation:
2.1.1 In preparation for the suctioning event, the patient should receive hyperoxygenation by the delivery of 100% oxygen for > 30 seconds prior to the suctioning event.(1,2) This may be accomplished by any of the following: by adjusting the FIO2 setting on the mechanical ventilator. by use of a temporary oxygen-enrichment program available on many microprocessor ventilators.(3) by manually ventilating the patient with an increased FIO2. (At least one study suggests that suctioning methods that use the ventilator for oxygenation and hyperinflation may be superior to use of the manual resusci-tator.(4)) This technique has been shown to be ineffective for providing FDO2 of 1.0.(5) Practitioners should ensure that adequate PEEP levels are maintained while using this technique for patients requiring > 5 cm H2O. by the continuous or intermittent insufflation of oxygen through the suction catheter during the suction event(6-8)--Devices designed for this purpose may be difficult to use and are expensive. It has been shown that delivery of increased tidal volumes is difficult while using this technique.(9)
2.1.2 In preparation for the suctioning event, the patient may be hyperventilated by delivery of an increased rate(1) and/or tidal volume. Hyperventilation may be accomplished by temporarily increasing the mandatory rate on the mechanical ventilator prior to the suctioning event or by increasing the rate of ventilation with a manual resuscitator. (Note: Care should be taken to maintain an adequate expiratory time to allow for complete exhalation of the delivered tidal volume.)(1)
2.1.3 In preparation for the suctioning event, the patient may be hyperinflated by the delivery of 'sigh' breaths prior to the suctioning event: by increasing the ventilator-set tidal volume to exceed the set tidal volume, by manually triggering preset sigh breaths on mechanical ventilators that are equipped with a sigh feature,(10) or by manual ventilation with a resuscitation bag.
2.1.4 A closed-suction system may be used to facilitate continuous mechanical ventilation and oxygenation during the suctioning event.(1)
2.1.5 A patient may be placed on a pulse oximeter to assess oxygenation during and following the procedure.
2.1.6 A patient may receive normal saline by instillation through the artificial airway to dilute and mobilize pulmonary secretions.(11,12) The value of instilling other solutions appears to be based on anecdotal reports.
2.2 The Suctioning Event: The placement of a suction catheter through the artificial airway into the trachea and the application of negative pressure as the catheter is being withdrawn. Sterile technique should be employed. Each pass of the suction catheter into the artificial airway is considered a suctioning event. The duration of each suctioning event should be approx-imately 10-15 seconds.(13) Suction pressure should be set as low as possible and yet effectively clear secretions. (Experimental data to support an appropriate maximum suction level are lacking. Some textbooks cite maximum safe limits of 100-150 torr but do not reference their recommendations.(14,15))
2.3 Follow-Up Care: Following the suctioning event,
2.3.1 the patient should be hyperoxygenated by delivery of 100% oxygen for > or = 1 minute by the same technique(s) used to preoxygenate the patient.
2.3.2 the patient may be hyperventilated by increasing the respiratory rate and/or tidal volume by the same technique(s) used prior to suctioning.
2.3.3 the patient should be monitored for adverse reactions.


Endotracheal suctioning may be performed by properly trained persons in a wide variety of settings that include (but are not limited to):
3.1 Hospital
3.2 Extended care facility
3.3 Home
3.4 Outpatient clinic
3.5 Physician's office
3.6 Transport vehicle


4.1 The need to remove accumulated pulmonary secretions as evidenced by one of the following:
4.1.1 Coarse breath sounds by auscultation or 'noisy' breathing
4.1.2 Increased peak inspiratory pressures during volume-controlled mechanical ventilation or decreased tidal volume during pressure-controlled ventilation.
4.1.3 Patient's inability to generate an effective spontaneous cough.
4.1.4 Visible secretions in the airway
4.1.5 Changes in monitored flow and pressure graphics
4.1.6 Suspected aspiration of gastric or upper airway secretions
4.1.7 Clinically apparent increased work of breathing
4.1.8 Deterioration of arterial blood gas values
4.1.9 Radiologic changes consistent with retention of pulmonary secretions
4.2 The need to obtain a sputum specimen to rule out or identify pneumonia or other pulmonary infection or for sputum cytology
4.3 The need to maintain the patency and integrity of the artificial airway
4.4 The need to stimulate a patient cough in patients unable to cough effectively secondary to changes in mental status or the influence of medication
4.5 Presence of pulmonary atelectasis or consolidation, presumed to be associated with secretion retention


Endotracheal suctioning is a necessary procedure for patients with artificial airways. Most contraindications are relative to the patient's risk of developing adverse reactions or worsening clinical condition as result of the procedure. When indicated, there is no absolute contraindication to endotracheal suctioning because the decision to abstain from suctioning in order to avoid a possible adverse reaction may, in fact, be lethal.


6.1 Hypoxia/hypoxemia(16-23)
6.2 Tissue trauma to the tracheal and/or bronchial mucosa(19,24)
6.3 Cardiac arrest(22,25)
6.4 Respiratory arrest(21)
6.5 Cardiac dysrhythmias(2,19,24)
6.6 Pulmonary atelectasis(17,19,21)
6.7 Bronchoconstriction/bronchospasm(19)
6.8 Infection (patient and/or caregiver)(19,26,27)
6.9 Pulmonary hemorrhage/bleeding(19,24)
6.10 Elevated intracranial pressure(28-30)
6.11 Interruption of mechanical ventilation(18)
6.12 Hypertension(31)
6.13 Hypotension(31)


Endotracheal suctioning is not a benign procedure, and operators should remain sensitive to possible hazards and complications and take all necessary precautions to ensure patient safety. Secretions in peripheral airways are not directly removed by endotracheal suctioning.


Qualified personnel should assess the need for endotracheal suctioning as a routine part of a patient/ventilator system check.


9.1 Improvement in breath sounds
9.2 Decreased peak inspiratory pressure (PIP) with narrowing of PIP - Pplateau; decreased airway resistance or increased dynamic compliance; increased tidal volume delivery during pressure-limited ventilation
9.3 Improvement in arterial blood gas values (ABGs) or saturation as reflected by pulse oximetry (SpO2)
9.4 Removal of pulmonary secretions


10.1 Necessary Equipment:
10.1.1 Vacuum source
10.1.2 Calibrated, adjustable regulator
10.1.3 Collection bottle and connecting tubing
10.1.4 Sterile disposable gloves
10.1.5 Sterile suction catheter of appropriate caliber. Diameter of the suction catheter should not exceed more than one half of the internal diameter of the artificial airway.(2,21,32) For selective main-stem suction-ing, a curved-tip catheter may be helpful. The information related to the effective-ness of head turning for selective suctioning is inconclusive.
10.1.6 Sterile water and cup
10.1.7 Sterile normal saline, if instillation is desirable
10.1.8 Goggles, mask, and other appropriate equipment for Universal Precautions(33)
10.1.9 Oxygen source with a calibrated metering device
10.1.10 Manual resuscitation bag equip-ped with an oxygen enrichment device
10.1.11 Stethoscope
10.2 Optional Equipment:
10.2.1 EKG monitor
10.2.2 Pulse oximeter
10.2.3 Sterile sputum trap for culture specimen
10.2.4 Closed suction system
10.2.5 Oxygen insufflation device Double-lumen suction catheter for continuous oxygen insufflation(4,7,16) Control valve device to alternate suction and oxygen insufflation to the suction catheter(7,32)
10.3 Personnel: Personnel responsible for performing endotracheal suctioning should demonstrate the following--
10.3.1 Knowledge of proper use and assembly of all equipment used
10.3.2 Ability to recognize abnormal breath sounds by auscultation
10.3.3 Knowledge and understanding of the patient's history, disease process, and goals of treatment
10.3.4 Knowledge and understanding of basic physiology and pathophysiology
10.3.5 Knowledge and understanding of ventilation, mechanical ventilators, and their alarm systems
10.3.6 Knowledge and understanding of all artificial airways and adjuncts used
10.3.7 Ability to monitor vital signs, assess the patient's condition, and appropriately respond to complications or adverse reactions to the procedure
10.3.8 Ability to modify techniques and equipment in response to complications or adverse reactions
10.3.9 Knowledge of basic EKG interpretation
10.3.10 Ability to assess the need for and provide cardiopulmonary resuscitation
10.3.11 Ability to evaluate and document the effectiveness and patient response to the procedure
10.3.12 Knowledge and understanding of the CDC guidelines for Universal Precautions
10.3.13 Knowledge of signs and symptoms of decreased cardiac output, oxygenation, and perfusion
10.3.14 Ability to teach lay-persons the procedure for home and extended care
10.3.15 Lay-persons responsible for endotracheal suctioning outside the hospital should demonstrate: Knowledge, skill, and understanding of the assembly, use, maintenance, and cleaning of all equipment used Ability to assess the need for and patient response to the procedure Ability to perform the proper suctioning technique Ability to assess the need for and provide cardiopulmonary resuscitation


The following should be monitored prior to, during, and after the procedure:
11.1 Breath sounds
11.2 Oxygen saturation
11.2.1 Skin color
11.2.2 Pulse oximeter, if available
11.3 Respiratory rate and pattern
11.4 Hemodynamic parameters
11.4.1 Pulse rate
11.4.2 Blood pressure, if indicated and available
11.4.3 EKG, if indicated and available
11.5 Sputum characteristics
11.5.1 Color
11.5.2 Volume
11.5.3 Consistency
11.5.4 Odor
11.6 Cough effort
11.7 Intracranial pressure, if indicated and available
11.8 Ventilator parameters
11.8.1 Peak inspiratory pressure and plateau pressure
11.8.2 Tidal volume
11.8.3 Pressure, flow, and volume graphics, if available
11.8.4 FIO2
11.9 Arterial blood gases, if indicated and available


Endotracheal suctioning should be performed whenever clinically indicated, with special consideration for the potential complications associated with the procedure. Endotracheal suctioning may be required at some minimum frequency in order to maintain the patency of the artificial airway used.


13.1 CDC Guidelines for Universal Precautions should be adhered to.(33)
13.2 All equipment and supplies should be appropriately disposed of or disinfected.
Mechanical Ventilation Guidelines Committee:

Richard D Branson RRT, Chairman, Cincinnati OH
Robert S Campbell RRT, Tampa FL
Robert L Chatburn RRT, Cleveland OH
Jack Covington RRT, San Francisco CA

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Interested persons may copy these Guidelines for noncommercial purposes of scientific or educational advancement. Please credit AARC and Respiratory Care Journal.

Reprinted from the May 1993 issue of RESPIRATORY CARE [Respir Care 1993;38(5):500–504]

You are here: » Clinical Practice Guidelines