Mucociliary clearance is impaired in acutely ill patients

Chest. 2005 Oct;128(4):2772-7. doi: 10.1378/chest.128.4.2772.


Objective: This study aimed to investigate nasal mucociliary clearance in acutely ill patients who were clinically stable and had no airway manipulation.

Design: Prospective clinical study.

Setting: Medical ICU.

Patients and participants: Sixteen medical patients admitted to the ICU and 16 healthy subjects were studied. Patients who were receiving airway manipulation, including tracheal suctioning, nasogastric or enteral tubes, noninvasive and invasive mechanical ventilation, were excluded.

Interventions: Mucociliary clearance was evaluated by saccharine transit time (STT) measurements at ICU admission (admission) and 90 days after hospital discharge (recovery). Healthy subjects were also subjected to two measurements 90 days apart.

Measurements and results: The STT of patients was 26.4 +/- 11.3 min and 17.9 +/- 8.6 min at admission and recovery (p = 0.002) [mean +/- SD] but did not change along the 90-day interval in healthy subjects (17.2 +/- 10.2 min and 16.7 +/- 10.3 min), respectively. Smokers (patients and healthy subjects) presented prolonged STT when compared to nonsmokers (p = 0.026). STT at admission correlated positively with heart rate (r = 0.560; p = 0.024) and hospital stay (r = 0.634; p = 0.008).

Conclusion: Mucociliary clearance is impaired in stable acutely ill patients with no airway manipulation and correlates with simple markers of underlying disease severity. Mucociliary dysfunction may help to explain the increased susceptibility of hospital-acquired respiratory infection in critically ill patients.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Critical Illness
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Transit
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mucociliary Clearance / physiology*
  • Oxygen Inhalation Therapy
  • Prospective Studies
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / physiopathology*
  • Saccharin / pharmacokinetics
  • Smoking


  • Saccharin