A suction catheter is one of the most versatile, useful pieces of medical equipment in your supply bag. Whether it’s preventing emergencies before they start or offering life-saving treatment when a person cannot effectively breathe on their own, the right suction catheter is critical to doing your job. Here are 6 key suction catheter uses.
Aspiration Prevention and Treatment
A suction catheter can help prevent aspiration in a patient undergoing dental treatment, especially if the patient is in an altered state of consciousness. Patients at risk of aspiration--such as those with pneumonia, continuous vomiting, or a bloody airway--may need suctioning to prevent aspiration.
In patients who have already aspirated, prompt suctioning can restore normal airway function and reduce the quantity of contaminants that make it to the lungs.
Removing contaminants from the airway can be life-saving, especially in people with weak immune systems. The most significant risk from aspiration is not choking, but infections such as aspiration pneumonia due to inhaled contaminants. The mortality rate for aspiration is about 20%, but with prompt treatment, the figure is much lower.
Maintaining a Patent Airway in Hospital Settings
In hospital settings, especially during surgery, suction catheters can help maintain a patent airway. This lowers the risks associated with general anesthesia, especially in patients with respiratory disorders or a high risk of aspiration.
Management of Chronic Respiratory Conditions
Chronic respiratory conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) increase the risk of aspiration, pneumonia, and secondary respiratory infections. A suction catheter can help clear the airway in these patients, especially when they are unable to clear secretions on their own. Over time, patients may need routine clearance of the airway. In COPD, patients produce excessive amounts of sputum that can occlude the airway and make breathing difficult. Suctioning reduces coughing, maintains a clear airway, and can prevent complications such as hypoxia.
Treatment of Respiratory Emergencies
Emergency suctioning can be life-saving in a wide variety of respiratory emergencies. Prompt suctioning may protect the airway for some choking victims, especially when inflammation and swelling threaten to close the airway. People suffering from acute respiratory infections may also benefit from suction catheters, particularly when they cannot clear their own airway.
Anaphylaxis can close the airway, but suctioning may help. Likewise, drowning survivors may benefit from a suction catheter to prevent aspiration, manage airway secretions, and clear the airway.
Pediatric Airway Management
Respiratory emergencies are one of the most common life-threatening conditions in pediatric patients. Neonates may require immediate suctioning to support breathing, and may need ongoing suctioning, especially if they are born very premature. Infants and children may require suctioning when they have respiratory infections, choking episodes, or if they have neurological conditions that impede normal breathing. The pediatric airway is smaller and anatomically distinct, so providers must choose a smaller catheter and regularly train on pediatric models.
Treating Patients With Artificial Airways
Intubated patients, tracheostomy patients, and those on mechanical ventilators may need regular suctioning to clear airway secretions. In addition to the usual indications for suctioning, these patients may require suctioning at regular intervals.
Managing Airway Trauma
Airway trauma, such as a blow to the throat, an object lodged in the throat, or a recent internal injury can occlude the airway. If the patient is bleeding, aspiration and choking are a risk. In some cases, airway trauma accompanies other forms of trauma, such as head injury, that inhibit a patient’s ability to breathe on their own or clear respiratory secretions.
In these instances, a suction catheter can save lives.
The right suction machine is critical for saving lives and ensuring optimal effectiveness of your suction catheter. A portable emergency suction machine allows you to safely tend to patients without moving them. This can save lives in tactical scenarios, following serious traumatic injuries, and for patients who cannot easily be transported. For help choosing the right suction machine for your agency, download our free guide, The Ultimate Guide to Purchasing a Portable Emergency Suction Device.
Editor's Note: This blog was originally published in May 2021. It has been re-published with additional up to date content.