Doctors can place a tube into your windpipe through your mouth or nose to keep your airway open.

If your airway is restricted from an injury or an illness, you may need to be intubated. If you are unable to breathe on your own due to loss of consciousness or other issues, it might be used.

Medical professionals can plan intubation in advance of a surgery, which is why they often use it in emergency settings.

Intubation can carry certain risks, and it is a useful and common procedure. This procedure is used in a number of ways.

“Intubation is used when you can’t breathe on your own.”

When you are having a planned surgery, you might expect to be intubated.

General anesthesia can stop you from breathing naturally, so an anesthesiologist might intubate you to ensure that vital oxygen is delivered to your body while you’re unconscious.

Once you are asleep, the intubation will be done.

Intubations are used in emergency settings. If you are experiencing a problem, you may need to be intubated.

A tube will be inserted through your mouth or nose. The circumstances around intubation dictate which method is used.

During an emergency, intubations through the mouth are the most common. The mouth is larger, which makes it easier to put the tube in.

You will usually lie on a hospital bed. In the case of an emergency, intubation can be performed by paramedics in ambulances, helicopters, or at the site of an emergency.

Oral entry

The steps involved in intubation are listed below.

  1. Pre-oxygenation. The oxygen in your lungs will be increased using a non-rebreather mask, a medical device used to deliver oxygen to the body.
  2. Medication. If you’re conscious prior to being intubated, you’ll be given a mild anesthesia medication that will put you to sleep quickly.
  3. Laryngoscope. A medical professional will then insert a curved, handheld device into your mouth to move your tongue and open your throat.
  4. Endotracheal tube. When all obstructions are removed, a flexible tube is inserted past your larynx (voice box) and into your trachea.
  5. Inflation. A small balloon at the end of the tube is inflated to help keep the tube in place.
  6. Confirmation. Doctors will make sure the tube is in the right place, usually with a stethoscope, and then confirm with a carbon dioxide monitor or a chest X-ray.

Nasal entry

In cases where your mouth is badly injured or blocked, intubation through the nose might be used. It is useful during oral surgeries where an intubation tube is in the way.

The procedure is the same as the one used for oral entry, but there is no need for a laryngoscope. A scope that is smaller and fits through the nose is inserted through the mouth. It goes down your throat and into your thoracic area.

The main benefit of being intubated is that your airway is open. There are many reasons why your airway might be closed. This requires immediate medical attention.

“If your airway closes, you can’t breathe. Without oxygen, you can lose consciousness or experience damage to your vital organs. If you don’t get oxygen into your lungs, you can be dead.”

In an older study that looked at intubation in emergency situations, it was found that the overall risk of complications from intubation was around 39 percent. In 24 percent of cases, the complications were considered serious.

Doctors will assess the risks associated with intubation before moving forward with the procedure.

  • Low oxygen. Intubation can sometimes be difficult to perform. If you aren’t adequately breathing at the time of intubation, your body will become more and more starved of oxygen until the procedure is complete. According to research, emergency intubations are unsuccessful on the first attempt between 10 and 25 percent of the time.
  • Tube placement. Another risk is that the tube will be placed incorrectly. If the tube accidentally ends up in one of the bronchi of your lungs, it can lead to complications like a partially collapsed or fully collapsed lung. If the tube goes into your esophagus instead of your trachea, this can be fatal if not caught quickly.
  • Injury. The tube has the potential to damage soft tissue in your throat and trachea as it’s inserted or removed. When you are intubated through the mouth, the laryngoscope can also damage your tongue, teeth, or dental work.
  • Infection. Intubation, especially for an extended period of time, can increase your risk of infections like pneumonia.

“Most people recover from intubation within a few hours and don’t experience long-term side effects.”

Being intubated and on a ventilator are both very different things.

Intubation uses a tube to open your airway. A breathing machine can be connected to the intubation tube. A ventilator helps deliver oxygen to your lungs.

Your body has more energy when you use a breathing machine.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), ventilators have been used extensively throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. This is because COVID-19 affects your lungs and your ability to breathe.

A 2020 review found that more than 80 percent of critically ill people admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU) with COVID-19 required intubation and a mechanical ventilator.

“Intubation is a medical procedure that involves placing a tube into your airway through your mouth or nose. If you can’t breathe on your own, it may be used.”

Intubation is a useful and often life-saving procedure, but it comes with risks. In most emergency cases, intubation is only used if the individual is not going to survive.

“If you don’t want to intubate, you can create a do-not-intubate order. This document is for healthcare professionals to know that you do not want to be intubated.”

You should always make your healthcare wishes known to those you trust and your medical professionals, even if this is not a decision to make lightly.