Oral and nasal enteral tube placement errors and complications in a pediatric intensive care unit

Pediatr Crit Care Med. 2007 Mar;8(2):161-4. doi: 10.1097/01.PCC.0000257035.54831.26.


Objective: To report five cases of errors in the placement of oral/nasal enteral tubes in a pediatric intensive care unit, and to review literature on placement techniques and complication rates.

Design: Case series and review of the literature.

Setting: A 19-bed pediatric intensive care unit in a tertiary care pediatric hospital.

Patients: A 14-yr-old male with respiratory distress following a near drowning, a 10-yr-old male with recurrent acute lymphocytic leukemia and Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia, a 16-yr-old female with complex congenital heart disease and respiratory failure, a 16-yr-old male with status asthmaticus, and a 2-yr-old male with congenital heart disease.

Interventions: None.

Main results: Five cases of enteral tube placement errors occurred in our combined medical-surgical pediatric critical care unit within the past year. All five resulted in placement of the feeding tube in the respiratory tract, four occurred despite the presence of cuffed endotracheal tubes. Three of the five patients had subsequent worsening of their respiratory status. One developed a pneumothorax, one developed pulmonary hemorrhage, and one developed an increased oxygen requirement.

Conclusions: Patients in the pediatric intensive care unit may have characteristics that place them at an increased risk for misplacement of oral or nasal enteral tubes into the respiratory tract. Placement of enteral tubes into the respiratory tract may cause serious morbidity and possibly mortality. Checking the placement of enteral tubes with traditional methods does not prevent misplacement in the respiratory tree, and new techniques should be considered.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Enteral Nutrition / instrumentation*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Intensive Care Units, Pediatric
  • Intubation, Gastrointestinal / adverse effects*
  • Male
  • Medical Errors / prevention & control*
  • Nose