There are many types of intubation procedures. Intubation is the act of inserting a tube into a bodily orifice to remove or add fluids or air. Tracheal intubation is the most common of all intubation procedures. A tracheostomy intubation requires making a puncture through the neck and into the trachea, creating an artificial opening from which a patient can breathe. Gastrointestinal intubation is performed to either provide a patient nutrients or pump his or her stomach.
Tracheal intubation is one of the most commonly performed procedures in hospitals worldwide. When a patient cannot breathe on his or her own, physicians insert a plastic tube into the mouth and into the trachea. A plastic bulb guides the tube while the physician uses a medical device known as a laryngoscope to pull down the patient's jaw to better view the trachea. Advanced laryngoscopes have cameras attached so a physician can see the tracheal opening on a television monitor. Once the tube is in place, the physician pulls the guiding bulb out through the tube, leaving a hollow opening; it is then possible to hook the tube to a ventilator or use a hand pump to provide oxygen.
In cases where a patient experiences severe facial trauma, traditional forms of tracheal intubation procedures could put a patient's life at risk. Using a scalpel, a physician makes an incision directly above the windpipe before puncturing a hole through the trachea. This procedure is somewhat risky due to the close proximity of a patient's vocal chords. A short, plastic tube is placed into the hole before the apparatus is connected to a ventilator.
Intubation procedures into the gastrointestinal tract can have one of two purposes: to pump the stomach or feed a patient nutrients if he or she cannot eat. In the first case, a patient is usually sedated before a narrow tube is guided through the esophagus and into the stomach. A physician introduces a small amount of saline before taking up an equal amount of stomach contents; this process is repeated until no further stomach contents are present in the returned fluid. For giving a patient nutrients, the tube is run through the nose and into the stomach. This feature allows for a patient to breathe on his or her own while he or she receives food.
Gastrointestinal intubation procedures can also stop esophageal bleeding. A device known as a Sengstaken-Blakemore tube includes an inflatable balloon that applies pressure to the esophageal wall. Used in conjunction with medication, the device speeds up the clotting process, leading to better patient outcomes.