6 Medical Suction Unit Issues to Avoid

Your team’s airway management is only as good as its medical suction units. Diligent practice, exceptional technique, and skillful assessments cannot compensate for a medical suction unit that does not work well. Sometimes, fixing suction issues is a simple matter of better storage or keeping an extra battery on hand. In other cases, such as those detailed below, it may be time to replace your suction device.


1. Weak Battery

A dying battery can turn an otherwise effective suction machine into little more than a hefty paperweight. Batteries become weaker with time, so replace the battery according to the schedule recommended by the manufacturer. Consider also the importance of choosing a battery that can sustain a charge for a long period of time. At a minimum, your battery should be able to power your device at full capacity for 45 minutes. To reduce the risk of battery-related mishaps, invest in quality batteries and always keep a backup battery ready. 


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2. Weak or Inconsistent Suction

Weak and inconsistent suction may be worse than no suctioning at all. The patient still experiences the stress and trauma of suctioning and undertakes risks such as hypoxia and airway trauma, but the benefits aren’t there. Some suction machines lose suction with time or as the battery weakens. Others simply can’t deliver consistent suction. Regularly testing your machine ensures that it delivers the right level of suction when you need it. 


3. Wrong Attachments

With the wrong attachments, your device becomes nonfunctional. This is why it’s so important to choose a suction machine that can work with the attachments you already have on hand. Store a wide range of catheters and similar devices with the machine, erring on the side of too many attachments instead of too few. Also, don’t make the mistake of hanging onto old attachments. Throw away any catheters that are incompatible with your current roster of suction machines. 


4. Not Fully Assembled

It’s tempting, at the end of a long day, to throw everything in a bag or into the back of an ambulance and plan to put it back together later. Don’t do this. If your suction machine is not fully assembled, you’ll waste precious seconds scrambling for parts under immense stress. That increases the risk of errors and patient injuries. Ensure your machine is cleaned and fully assembled at the beginning of each shift. 


5. Not Fully Accessible

Ideally, you should be able to grab your suction machine and treat a patient within a few seconds. Keep the machine accessible - store it somewhere easy to reach and include all parts in the same bag. If you regularly respond to tactical scenarios, include a portable emergency suction machine in your tactical trauma kit. One of the simplest ways to ensure your machine is accessible is to keep the ambulance clean and well-organized. Not only does this make your job easier, but it’s also an important safety consideration because clutter can become projectiles during an accident or sudden stop.


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6. Dirty or Incorrectly Cleaned

A dirty suction machine can be catastrophic for patients. Many patients who require suctioning already have weak immune systems. They may also have infections that can be passed onto subsequent patients if the machine is improperly cleaned and sterilized. Clean the machine according to the manufacturer’s specifications after each and every use, and never reuse parts. Know that improper storage can also leave a properly sterilized machine dirty, so store the machine in a safe space away from splatter and other potential contaminants.


If your suction machine isn’t delivering the suction it once did or constantly loses power, it may be time to replace it. Choosing the right portable suction unit is critical to providing exceptional patient care. To learn more about your options, download our free guide, The Ultimate Guide to Purchasing a Portable Emergency Suction Machine.


Editor's Note: This blog was originally published in March, 2019. It has been re-published with additional up to date content.