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What Is a Nasal Catheter?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 24 November 2016
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A nasal catheter is a tube inserted into the nose for procedures, oxygen administration, or monitoring purposes. Nasogastric tubes used to access the stomach through the nose may also be called nasal catheters in some settings. Careful placement is required to advance the tube through the nose without damaging the sinuses or stressing nasal polyps and other growths that may be present. The device can be uncomfortable for patients, some of whom may need to be sedated or provided with local anesthetic while they use it.

Length can vary, depending on the intended purpose, as can width. A medical practitioner selects the most appropriate one for a task on the basis of what is being done and the patient’s size. Nasal catheters are made from flexible materials like rubber and plastic so they can be gently guided into the nose and through the relevant structures while conforming to the shape of the body. For some procedures, medical imaging may be used to track the device to make sure it ends up in the right place.

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Sometimes a nasal catheter can be used to deliver oxygen to a patient when the oral route is not available. This differs from a nasal cannula, which consists of two small prongs clipped to the nose to deliver oxygen for a patient who is having trouble getting enough. Conversely, patients who are breathing independently may wear a nasal catheter that acts as a monitoring device to track exhaled gases, checking for indicators that the patient is experiencing complications.

Another use of the nasal catheter is found in sinus surgery. Patients with severe sinus blockage that does not respond to conservative treatment may need a procedure where a balloon catheter is inserted into the nasal cavity to open up the sinuses. The balloon can be expanded once it is in position to clear obstructions and allow the sinuses to drain. Patients with severe nosebleeds may also need a balloon procedure to stop the bleeding, where the balloon puts pressure on leaking vessels inside the nose.

Nasogastric tubing is run through the nose, into the esophagus, and down to the stomach. Insertion of this type of nasal catheter may require local anesthetic and a lubricant to reduce pain and irritation for the patient. It may be used to pump out the stomach contents or to introduce something to the stomach that the patient cannot take through the mouth. These devices are positioned and used with care to avoid damage to the mucosa that line the nose and upper gastrointestinal tract.

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