Ask any emergency responder and they'll tell you the critical role portable suction plays in maintaining airway patency. No other tool can remove blood, vomit, or sputum from the airway, or allow you to visualize the cords prior to intubation.
This is why it is so important to maintain your suction unit. Because the machine comes in direct contact with bodily fluids, it is inherently pathogenic and must be treated as such.
Disinfecting your suction unit is just one part of keeping the machine healthy and ready for use. Here we discuss not only how to properly clean a portable suction unit, but also how to adopt good maintenance practices to ensure its ongoing functionality.
First, Protect Yourself
When it comes to cleaning your portable suction device, you must first take measures to protect yourself from harmful fluids. After use, bodily fluids will be present within each area of the unit, from the catheter, to the tubing, and into the canister.
To avoid spills and splashes, first don your personal protective gear, including:
- Face and eye protection
- Protective clothing
The last thing you want when disconnecting the tubing is to inadvertently splash the tube’s contents onto an unprotected bodily surface (such as your eyes). Don't take chances: Wear the proper protection.
Beware of Pathogens
Many nasty bugs lurk within a dirty suction unit. Not only is the unit contaminated by bodily fluids, but its tight spaces provide the perfect environment for the growth of dangerous germs. Here is a sampling:
Many types of harmful bacteria can be spread via your portable suction unit, including:
- Staphylococcus aureus: spread via droplets; can cause dangerous skin infections and spread to other organs, with new strains that are drug-resistant (MRSA)
- Streptococcus pneumonia: the leading cause of bacterial pneumonia; can enter the lungs through inhalation or the bloodstream
- Haemophilus influenzae: the second most common cause of bacterial pneumonia; doesn’t usually cause illness unless you have a weakened immune system
Although viruses require a host to stay alive, bodily fluids within your suction unit after patient contact may harbor harmful viruses, including:
- Influenza: infects the lungs and airways and can be highly dangerous in the elderly or immunocompromised
- HIV: destroys white blood cells and can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS)
- Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV): a common cause of respiratory tract infections, especially in children.
To prevent the spread of pathogens—to your next patient, your partner, and yourself—be sure to disinfect a suction device after every use, even if there is nothing visible in the canister. Change disposable parts in between each patient and never suction multiple patients at once.
Disinfecting Your Portable Suction Unit
It is best to follow the manufacturer's guidelines when disinfecting your suction unit, but in general, the following steps apply:
- Disconnect the unit from its power source.
- Disconnect the battery from the PC board when cleaning the interior chassis.
- Discard all disposable parts, including the canister, tubing, and catheters.
- Dispose biohazardous materials appropriately.
- Use a mild detergent or a mixture of bleach and water (1 part bleach/10 parts water) and rinse thoroughly.
- Follow the instruction manual when disinfecting the mechanics of the unit.
- Never submerge the suction unit.
- Use disinfectant wipes to clean all outer surfaces, including control knobs, screens and handles.
Don't wait for the end of your shift to disinfect the suction unit. Do it immediately after each call to ensure it is clean and operational for the next patient.
Don't Forget About Power
Keeping your suction unit functional means ensuring it always has a reliable power source. The unit is of no use if the batteries are dead. Here are our recommendations:
- Check the batteries at the start of each shift.
- Test the batteries periodically, per manufacturer’s guidelines.
- Replace worn or damaged batteries.
- Have plenty of backups on hand, especially for MCIs.
Practice Makes Perfect
Proper maintenance is important, but so is proper training. Here are some ideas for honing your suction skills:
- Incorporate suction technique into code practice scenarios.
- Review airway anatomy to maximize suction technique.
- Know the key differences between pediatric suction techniques.
- Review the dangers and complications associated with improper suctioning.
- Be aware of variations in suction catheter size/style and their appropriateness per patient.
Keeping the Unit Safe
Finally, to ensure your portable suction unit is ready for the next airway emergency, it is important to protect it from damage. This includes:
- Avoiding extreme temperatures
- Keeping the suction unit away from wet or high moisture areas
- Securing the unit within your rig to prevent damage while responding
- Keeping the unit free of dust and debris
Knowing how to properly clean your portable suction unit is only part of maintaining its overall health. Practice these recommendations to maximize your unit's efficiency and effectiveness.