What Is Emergency Intubation?

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  • Written By: Glyn Sinclair
  • Edited By: Rachel Catherine Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 30 March 2020
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Emergency intubation, or endotracheal intubation, is a rapid, life-saving medical procedure whereby a flexible tube is inserted into a patient’s windpipe to aid in breathing. The pipe is usually introduced through the mouth in an emergency situation. This procedure is performed when the windpipe is blocked due to trauma or excess blood. An allergic reaction, or anaphylaxis, is another reason for emergency intubation. Anaphylaxis occurs when the body’s immune system reacts negatively to stings, venom, or food products, and releases histamine, causing the airways to constrict and creating respiratory distress.

A doctor’s prime mission is to keep the patient breathing, and emergency intubation is the quickest way to achieve this goal in a life-threatening scenario. The procedure is not without risk and in some cases can cause bleeding and infection, although this is probably a minor concern at the time of the emergency. Other risks include damage to the larynx and lungs. Once the patient is breathing again, he is often medicated and assisted by a breathing apparatus. The intubation tube can also serve to administer medication to the patient.


Sometimes a procedure called Rapid Sequence Intubation (RSI) is used to assist the patient to breathe. RSI involves administering sedatives prior to intubation to calm and immobilize the patient, and is typically employed when he would not be able to tolerate a regular emergency intubation. This procedure is especially risky as the patient is left without control of his muscles. If the patient is unable to be artificially ventilated, such as could be the situation outside of a hospital environment, brain damage and possible death could rapidly ensue.

Reaching the conclusion to intubate a patient can sometimes be challenging for a medical professional. To recognize looming respiratory failure is often quite difficult and can require many years of clinical experience. There are numerous indications leading to a physician’s decision to intubate a patient. Some of these indications include the patient's inability to oxygenate the pulmonary capillary blood, or to protect the air passage from asphyxiation. If the emergency medical technician (EMT) or doctor decides to perform an emergency intubation, they will very often use a hand-operated ventilation mask to keep the lungs inflated.

Intubations are performed using a laryngoscope. The scope is basically a handle with a slightly rounded metal blade attached to insert into the throat and open the airway. Batteries are inserted into the handle and the device is equipped with a light and a viewing scope.



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