Intensive Care Medicine

, Volume 30, Issue 6, pp 1167–1174 | Cite as

Endotracheal suctioning: from principles to practice

  • Brenda M. MorrowEmail author
  • Merle J. Futter
  • Andrew C. Argent
Neonatal And Pediatric Intensive Care



This paper aims to highlight the physical principles of pressure and flow dynamics underlying endotracheal suctioning, to demonstrate these on a simple illustrative model and to discuss the clinical implications of these principles for paediatric practice.


Prospective in vitro study.


Paediatric intensive care unit of a tertiary, academic hospital.

Measurements and main results

The peak pressure change (ΔP) obtained in a “bag-in-box” model was recorded during suctioning, using different combinations of endotracheal tube (ETT) and catheter sizes, different suction pressures and techniques. Suction was also performed on three different consistencies of gelatine, using a range of suction catheter sizes and vacuum pressures. The mass of gelatine suctioned per second was calculated. A large ΔP was measured when using neonatal-sized ETTs. There was a linear relationship (r=0,8, p<0.05) between ΔP and the ratio of external catheter area to area difference (internal ETT area−external catheter area). Significantly greater ΔP was measured when using a short versus long suction catheter (p<0.001) and when applying suction for longer duration (p<0,001) and with higher vacuum pressures (p<0.05). The amount of mucus suctioned in a given time was related to catheter size, suction pressure and mucus density.


Applied clinically, these results indicate that intrapulmonary pressure changes generated by the endotracheal suctioning of intubated neonates are likely to be considerable, possibly translating into loss of lung volume.


Endotracheal suctioning Paediatric intensive care Intrathoracic pressure Endotracheal tube Suction catheter 



We thank Lance Howell for technical support.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Brenda M. Morrow
    • 1
    Email author
  • Merle J. Futter
    • 2
  • Andrew C. Argent
    • 3
  1. 1.Physiotherapy Department and Paediatric Intensive Care Unit, Red Cross War Memorial Children’s HospitalSchool of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences and School of Child and Adolescent Health, University of Cape Town Rondebosch, Cape TownSouth Africa
  2. 2.Department of Physiotherapy, School of Health and Rehabilitation SciencesUniversity of Cape TownCape TownSouth Africa
  3. 3.Paediatric Intensive Care Unit, School of Child and Adolescent HealthRed Cross War Memorial Children’s HospitalRondebosch, Cape TownSouth Africa

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