Suction Catheters

What are suction catheters?

Suction catheters are flexible, long tubes attached on one end to the Breathing Tube or Endotracheal Tube or to a Tracheostomy tube. The other end of the suction catheter is connected to a collection container (suction canister) and a device that generates suction. The Breathing Tube or Endotracheal Tube or the Tracheostomy Tube are generally connected to a ventilator.

What are suction catheters used for?

Critically ill or injured Patients who require a Breathing Tube or Endotracheal Tube or a Tracheostomy tube for mechanical ventilation(Ventilators (Breathing Machines) need occasional suctioning to remove secretions(sputum) from the airway. The respiratory therapist, nurse, or ICU technician suctions a Patient by inserting a small flexible tube called a suction catheter into the breathing tube. The purpose of suctioning is to keep the airways clear of secretions and hopefully prevent plugging of the airways and also prevent Pneumonia.


 Inline Suction with Tracheostomy


There are two different ‘suction catheters’ that need to be distinguished. The first one is an ‘inline suction catheter’ or also named ‘closed suction system’, which is integrated and connected between the closed circuit from the ventilator(breathing machine) and the Breathing Tube or Endotracheal Tube or the Tracheostomy tube. This ‘closed suction system’ only needs to be changed every 24-48 hours and has the advantage that during suctioning, ventilator support remains intact and optimised as no disconnection from the ventilator is necessary. It also minimises infection risk.

On the other hand there are single, disposable suction catheters that can only be used once. In a ventilated Patient, the disposable suction catheters can only be used after the ventilator has been disconnected from the breathing tube. After disconnection the suction catheter gets inserted into the breathing tube and suctioning is taking place. During the disconnection from the ventilator, support from the ventilator is minimised and there is also a higher infection risk.

In both suction catheters, the catheter is gently inserted into the Patient’s airway and suction applied, thus removing any secretions or fluids. You can usually see your loved one coughing, as well as looking and feeling uncomfortable. The suctioning procedure usually only takes a few seconds and therefor discomfort is minimised. Suction will be performed by physiotherapists, nurses or doctors.


Typical Suction Canister

Are There Any Complications?

The complications which may result from endotracheal suctioning include:

  • Hypoxia(lack of oxygen)
  • Cardiac arrhythmia’s
  • Atelectasis(partial collapse in the lungs)
  • Changes in intracranial and pulmonary pressures
  • Pneumothorax(collapse of the lung)
  • Mucosal trauma

Any Questions?

Of course, if you have any questions or concerns, please discuss them with the ICU nurses and doctors.

All Intensive Care interventions and procedures carry a degree of potential risk even when performed by skilled and experienced staff.

The information contained on this page is general in nature and therefore cannot reflect individual Patient variation. It is meant as a back up to specific information which will be discussed with you by the Doctors and Nurses caring for your loved one. INTENSIVE CARE HOTLINE attests to the accuracy of the information contained here BUT takes no responsibility for how it may apply to an individual Patient. Please refer to the full disclaimer.

Related Articles:

  A range of suction catheters

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