Four Medical Suction Strategies for Flu Season

Anyone who has seen the news lately can attest to the fact that we are in the throes of a serious flu season. Not only has there been widespread infection across the country, but there are numerous strains out there that fall outside of this year’s immunization. That’s not to say that the flu shot is useless. On the contrary, seasonal flu shots are a great way to protect yourself, especially if you are very young, elderly, or immunocompromised. The flu shot may lessen the symptoms and shorten the infection, even if you acquire a different strain. And if you’re a health care provider, you need all the protection you can get.


But strategizing for flu season goes well beyond personal protection. Fortunately, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides comprehensive information on influenza, which can be used as a guide for flu strategizing. Caring for those suffering from the flu requires a proper assessment, symptom recognition, and the right tools for treatment. And one of the most important tools for treating any form of respiratory illness is your portable suction unit. So let’s discuss four medical suction strategies for handling this year’s flu season.



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The Flu vs. a Cold

Assessing a patient suspected of having the flu requires recognizing the symptoms and being able to differentiate them from symptoms of the common cold. Symptoms may be similar, so your first strategy is to determine which ailment is affecting your patient. Below are some factors that may aid in your diagnosis.

Signs and Symptoms Influenza Cold
Symptom onset           Abrupt  Gradual
  Fever   Usual; 3-4 days   Rare
  Aches   Usual; often severe   Slight
  Chills   Fairly common      Uncommon
  Fatigue, weakness     Usual   Sometimes
  Sneezing     Sometimes   Common
  Stuffy nose   Sometimes   Common
  Sore throat     Sometimes   Common
  Headache   Common   Rare
  Chest discomfort, cough   Common; can be severe   Mild to moderate; hacking


If your patient is unable to answer these questions, utilize family members or caregivers to fill in the blanks.


Common Flu Symptoms

Your next strategy is to recognize the symptoms. Most of us have either had the flu or treated affected patients. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and include:

  • Fever or feeling feverish
  • Chills
  • Cough and sore throat
  • Runny nose or congestion
  • Muscle/body aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Vomiting and diarrhea (more common in children than adults)


It is important to remember that not everyone with the flu will have a fever, so don’t rule it out if the patient is afebrile.


Stay Alert for Complications

Most flu sufferers will recover in less than two weeks. However, there is always a risk of developing complications from the flu, especially in pediatric patients, geriatric patients, and patients with preexisting conditions (such as asthma and congestive heart failure). Your third strategy is to be alert for potential complications, since these patients may require airway intervention (think suction!). Potential flu complications include:

  • Pneumonia
  • Bronchitis
  • Sinus and ear infections


The flu can also usher in extreme symptoms, such as respiratory insufficiency, dehydration, and a decreased level of consciousness. As an emergency responder, you are likely to be called to assist patients suffering from extreme flu symptoms. Some of the warning signs for serious influenza include:

Pediatric patients

  • Tachypnea or trouble breathing
  • Cyanosis
  • Decreased fluid intake/vomiting
  • Lethargy or confusion
  • Irritability
  • Recurring fever and worsening cough
  • Fever accompanied by rash
  • Loss of appetite
  • Significantly fewer wet diapers than normal


  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Sudden onset of dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Recurring fever and worsening cough


Having the Right Tools

Your fourth and final medical suction strategy for flu season is having the right tools on hand for treatment. This begins with personal protection, so be sure to have gloves, eye protection, and especially masks (for you and your patient) on hand when responding to possible flu patients.


Oxygen, cardiac monitoring, pulse oximetry, and drug therapy will also play a role in treating suspected influenza, so tote your ALS equipment on each call.


Another critical tool is your portable suction unit. Any time you have a patient suffering from a respiratory illness, be sure to include the suction unit in your ALS equipment lineup. Here are a few reminders:

  • Check the portable suction unit at the start of each shift to ensure it is charged and functional.
  • Replace used or worn batteries, and have extras on hand.
  • Inventory your unit to ensure you have plenty of accessories, including a variety of catheters.
  • Be sure to disinfect your unit thoroughly after each use, to prevent the spread of infection.


Treating influenza patients requires a thorough assessment and the proper tools. Your portable suction unit plays a critical role in maintaining airway patency in patients suffering from flu symptoms, so follow these medical suction strategies as you combat this year’s severe flu season.


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