What Is Pediatric Intubation?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Pediatric intubation secures a child’s airway with an endotracheal tube to keep it open. This may be required for some medical procedures, or in emergencies where a child may not be able to breathe independently. Medical professionals can perform an intubation in a hospital or emergency setting. While intubated, children cannot talk; those who are conscious before the procedure may want to be warned that they shouldn’t try speaking with the tube in place.

An endotracheal tube is used in pediatric intubation.
An endotracheal tube is used in pediatric intubation.

In this procedure, a tool is used to pull the tongue back and expose the trachea. A tube of suitable size can be threaded into the trachea and checked to confirm it is reaching the lungs, not the stomach. Once it is in place, it can be secured and a ventilator may be attached; this can include an emergency bag ventilator which is manually compressed, or a mechanical ventilator that operates automatically to force oxygen into the lungs.

Some special concerns arise with pediatric intubation, requiring additional training to prepare for it. Children have underdeveloped airways which can be more difficult to manage than those of adults. The trachea tends to be shorter, and the tongue is proportionally larger, which can make it harder to control, especially in emergencies. There is a tendency for the tongue to roll back into the throat, obscuring the view during a pediatric intubation and blocking the airway.

Purpose-designed pediatric intubation kits are also required. The endotracheal tube needs to be smaller and shorter than devices designed for adult patients, and other equipment also needs to be appropriately sized. In facilities where patients of mixed ages may be seen, a separate cabinet or emergency bag may hold pediatric supplies to make them easy to access in an emergency. It can also be color-coded, ensuring that people will be able to grab it quickly.

General anesthesia requires pediatric intubation to provide the patient with a mixture of anesthetic gases and a stable oxygen supply. Patients may experience soreness in the throat after surgery because of the tube placement, and need to perform breathing exercises to help their airways recover. Intubation may also be recommended if there are concerns about the potential for blockage in the airway; during a severe allergic reaction, for example, the trachea can swell and cut off the air supply to the lungs. An endotracheal tube can keep it open and ensure that the patient will be able to continue breathing.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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