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Respiratory Suction
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Role of suction in respiratory care

Respiratory Suctioning

Suction plays a critical role in respiratory care, particularly for patients who are unable to clear their own airway secretions effectively. Here are some key aspects of its role:

  1. Airway Clearance

Suctioning is used to remove secretions, mucus, blood, vomit, or other foreign material from the trachea, pharynx, and bronchi. This is crucial for maintaining a clear airway, especially in patients with compromised cough reflexes or excessive secretion production.

  1. Prevention of Complications

Accumulation of secretions can lead to various complications, including:

Atelectasis: Collapsed alveoli due to obstruction of airways.

Hypoxemia: Reduced oxygen levels in the blood caused by blocked airways.

Infections: Secretions provide a medium for bacterial growth, increasing the risk of respiratory infections such as pneumonia.

  1. Facilitation of Mechanical Ventilation

In mechanically ventilated patients, suctioning helps in maintaining the patency of the endotracheal or tracheostomy tube, ensuring effective ventilation. It prevents mucus plugs that can obstruct the tube and compromise ventilation.

  1. Assessment and Monitoring

Suctioning allows for the assessment of the type and quantity of secretions, which can provide valuable information about a patient’s respiratory status and underlying conditions. For instance, changes in the color, consistency, and amount of secretions can indicate infection or improvement/deterioration in the patient's condition.

  1. Emergency Situations

In emergencies, such as choking or aspiration, immediate suctioning is essential to clear the airway and prevent asphyxiation.

Techniques and Devices

Several techniques and devices are used for suctioning in respiratory care:


Oral Suctioning: Using a Yankauer suction tip to clear secretions from the mouth.

Nasopharyngeal and Nasotracheal Suctioning: Using a flexible catheter inserted through the nostril to remove secretions from the upper airway and trachea.

Endotracheal Suctioning: Performed in intubated patients using a catheter passed through the endotracheal or tracheostomy tube.

Closed Suction Systems: These systems allow suctioning without disconnecting the patient from the ventilator, reducing the risk of infection and maintaining oxygenation during the procedure.

Best Practices

To ensure safe and effective suctioning, healthcare providers follow certain best practices:

Sterility and Hygiene: Using sterile equipment and maintaining hand hygiene to prevent infections.

Monitoring: Continuous monitoring of the patient’s vital signs, oxygen levels, and respiratory status during and after the procedure.

Minimizing Trauma: Using the appropriate size and type of catheter, applying suction only while withdrawing the catheter, and limiting the duration and frequency of suctioning to prevent mucosal damage and hypoxia.

Pre-oxygenation: Providing supplemental oxygen before suctioning to prevent desaturation.

Patient Comfort: Using appropriate sedation or analgesia if needed to minimize discomfort and anxiety.

Types of Suction Apparatus

Wall-Mounted Suction Units

Use: Commonly used in hospitals and clinics.

Features: Connected to a central vacuum system, provides continuous suction, adjustable pressure settings.

Portable Suction Units

Use: Suitable for use in ambulances, home care, and remote locations.

Features: Lightweight, battery-operated or manually operated, easy to transport, and with adjustable suction pressure.

Closed Suction Systems

Use: Often used in mechanically ventilated patients to maintain a closed circuit during suctioning.

Features: Enclosed catheter system, reduces risk of infection, maintains oxygenation during suctioning.

Manual Suction Devices

Use: Emergency situations where power sources are unavailable.

Types: Handheld bulbs or pumps.

Features: Simple, reliable, and quick to deploy.

Key Considerations for Using Suction Apparatus

Sterility and Infection Control

Use sterile or disposable components to prevent infections.

Employ closed suction systems in ventilated patients to minimize contamination.

Vacuum Pressure Settings

Adjust vacuum pressure based on the patient’s age and clinical condition (e.g., lower pressures for neonates and higher pressures for adults).

Patient Monitoring

Monitor the patient’s oxygen levels, heart rate, and respiratory status during and after suctioning to detect any adverse effects promptly.

Safety and Comfort

Use appropriate catheter sizes and lubrication to minimize trauma.

Pre-oxygenate patients if needed and perform suctioning for the shortest duration necessary to reduce hypoxia risk.


Position the Patient

Position the patient properly to facilitate secretion removal. For oral suctioning, semi-Fowler’s position is often effective. For nasopharyngeal or tracheal suctioning, position the patient supine with the head tilted slightly back or to the side.


If the patient is at risk of desaturation, provide supplemental oxygen before suctioning. For ventilated patients, increase the FiO2 temporarily.

Select the Appropriate Catheter

Choose the correct size and type of catheter for the patient’s age and the suctioning route. Catheter size should be approximately half the diameter of the airway.

Set the Suction Pressure

Adjust the suction pressure to the appropriate level:

Neonates: 60-80 mmHg

Infants: 80-100 mmHg

Children: 100-120 mmHg

Adults: 100-150 mmHg

Sterile Technique

Use sterile technique, especially for tracheal and endotracheal suctioning. Sterile gloves and equipment help prevent infection.

Lubricate the Catheter

For nasal or tracheal suctioning, lubricate the catheter with sterile saline to reduce friction and trauma.

During Suctioning

Insert the Catheter Gently

Insert the catheter without applying suction. Advance it gently to avoid trauma to the mucosa.

Apply Suction Intermittently

Apply suction intermittently while withdrawing the catheter, rotating it to remove secretions effectively. Continuous suctioning can damage mucosal surfaces and cause hypoxia.

Limit Suction Duration

Limit each suction pass to 10-15 seconds to reduce the risk of hypoxia and mucosal damage.


Assess the Patient

Monitor the patient’s respiratory status, oxygen saturation, and overall condition after suctioning. Look for signs of improvement or any adverse effects.

Provide Post-Oxygenation

If needed, provide supplemental oxygen after suctioning to help the patient recover from any desaturation.

Dispose of Equipment Properly

Dispose of single-use equipment and clean reusable items according to infection control protocols.

Document the Procedure

Record the procedure details, including the amount and appearance of secretions, patient’s response, and any complications.

Patient Comfort and Safety

Communicate with the Patient

Explain the procedure to the patient to reduce anxiety. For conscious patients, encourage them to cough before and after suctioning.

Use Minimal Invasive Techniques

Use the least invasive suctioning method effective for the patient’s condition to minimize discomfort and trauma.

Hydration and Humidification

Ensure the patient is adequately hydrated and that inspired air is humidified to keep secretions less tenacious and easier to remove.

In conclusion, suctioning is an essential procedure in respiratory care, crucial for maintaining clear airways and preventing complications such as hypoxemia, infections, and atelectasis. Effective suctioning involves thorough preparation, including assessing the patient's need, gathering appropriate equipment, and adhering to sterile techniques. During the procedure, it's important to use the correct catheter size, adjust suction pressure appropriately, and apply suction intermittently while minimizing the duration to reduce the risk of mucosal damage and hypoxia. Post-procedure monitoring and documentation are essential for evaluating patient outcomes and ensuring continued respiratory health. By prioritizing patient safety and comfort through effective communication, proper positioning, and hydration, healthcare providers can optimize the benefits of suctioning, enhancing respiratory function and overall patient care.