Breathing Tube (Endotracheal Tube)

What is a breathing (endotracheal) tube?

A breathing tube is a plastic tube used during artificial respiration, a procedure to assist a patient in breathing. One end of the breathing (endotracheal) tube is placed into the windpipe (trachea) through the mouth or nose. The other end of the tube is connected to a breathing machine (mechanical ventilator) or breathing bag (manual resuscitator). The breathing tube provides an airway so that air and oxygen from the breathing machine or breathing bag can be provided to the lungs.

How is the breathing tube held in place?

The breathing tube is held in place with tape or a plastic device. The nurses and respiratory therapists secure the tube with tape. The tape extends around the neck to form a circle of tape holding the tube in place.

Can the patient talk with the breathing tube in place?

No. The breathing tube goes through the vocal cords and prevents them from moving. This means the patient cannot make sounds.

How long is a breathing tube used?

Normally, breathing tubes are used only for a short time until patients can breath on their own. If the patient needs a breathing tube for more than a few days, the doctor may want to put a temporary tracheostomy tube in the patient's neck. The tracheostomy tube is usually more comfortable than an endotracheal tube.

Does a breathing tube hurt?

Initially, most patients complain about the breathing tube feeling uncomfortable. It often makes patients cough or gag. Over time the patients get used to the tube and the initial discomfort fades.

Are there any complications associated with use of a breathing tube?

Breathing tubes can become displaced and may require reinsertion. This most commonly happens if the patient is agitated and vigorously moving. Some patients attempt to remove the tubes themselves. This is one of the reasons that patient's hands are gently restrained and mild sedation is used.

A breathing or endotrachial tube connected to patient. A breathing or endotracheal tube