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Alternate Names

  • endotracheal intubation
  • nasotracheal intubation
  • orotracheal intubation
  • Lungs and bronchial tree


Endotracheal intubation is the insertion of a tube through the nose or mouth into the windpipe (trachea).

Who is a candidate for the procedure?

Intubation may be done to:
  • keep the airway open, such as while cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is being performed
  • give a person general anesthesia or oxygen
  • remove secretions
Intubation is needed:
  • when a person does not have enough oxygen in his or her blood
  • when a person cannot breathe properly or has too much carbon dioxide in the blood. Carbon dioxide is normally breathed out when a person exhales if the lungs are working properly. When too much of it builds up, it is toxic to the body.
  • when secretions must be removed from the lungs or controlled. This may be necessary, for example, when a person has severe lung disease.
  • to protect the airway in a person whose gag reflex is depressed, which makes lung infections more likely. This might be needed after a head injury, for example, or a neurological injury that affects the respiratory system.
  • during general anesthesia for surgery

How is the procedure performed?

Before the procedure:
  • the person will be given oxygen through a special face mask
  • he or she will be sedated, if possible. Medication that relaxes the person may be given along with another medication that paralyzes the muscles in the body for a short period of time.
  • a special suction device will be available to remove secretions from the mouth
The intubation may be done through the mouth or nose, using one of the following methods:
  • A tube is inserted through the mouth, past the vocal cords into the trachea. A lighted tool called a laryngoscope is used to examine the throat and make sure the tube goes in properly. The neck is positioned with the head back to make the opening between the vocal cords as easy as possible to see.
  • A tube is inserted through the nose and into the trachea. This is done blindly without the use of a laryngoscope to see the windpipe opening. Because this technique does not require special positioning of the neck, it is useful when the patient has a neck injury.


Charles E. Saunders, Mary T. Ho (eds): In Current Emergency Diagnosis and Treatment. Fourth edition, 1992.

Davision JK, Eckartdt, Perese DA [eds] Clinical Anesthesia Procedures of the Massachusetts General Hospital. Little Brown, 1993

Murray, John, Nadel, Jay. Textbook of Respiratory Medicine, Second Edition. Philadelphia, W.B. Saunders Company, 1996.

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