Oropharyngeal secretion volume in intubated patients: the importance of oral suctioning

Am J Crit Care. 2011 Nov;20(6):e141-5. doi: 10.4037/ajcc2011178.


Background: Aspiration of secretions that accumulate above the cuff of the endotracheal tube is a risk factor for ventilator-associated pneumonia. Routine suctioning of oropharyngeal secretions may reduce this risk; the recommended frequency for suctioning is unknown.

Objectives: To quantify the volume of secretions suctioned from the oropharynx of critically ill patients at 2 different intervals to assist in identifying a recommended frequency for oropharyngeal suctioning.

Methods: A prospective, repeated measure, single-group design was used. Twenty-eight patients who were orally intubated and treated with mechanical ventilation were enrolled; 2 were extubated during data collection, yielding a sample of 26 patients. The patients were suctioned at baseline with a deep suction catheter, and the volume and weight of secretions were recorded. The procedure was repeated at 2-hour and 4-hour intervals.

Results: Most of the patients were male (mean age, 49 years). Three suctioning passes were needed to clear secretions, with a mean time of 48.1 seconds. The mean volume of secretions at the 2-hour interval was 7.5 mL. Five patients required suctioning before the 4-hour interval. For the remaining 21 patients, the volume retrieved was 6.5 mL at the 2-hour interval and 7.5 mL at the 4-hour interval (P = .27). The 5 patients who required extra suctioning had significantly more secretions at the 2-hour interval (11.6 mL vs 6.5 mL; P = .05).

Conclusions: A minimum frequency of oropharyngeal suctioning every 4 hours is recommended. However, more frequent suctioning may be needed in a subset of patients.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units
  • Intubation, Intratracheal*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mouth
  • Oropharynx / metabolism*
  • Pneumonia, Ventilator-Associated / prevention & control
  • Prospective Studies
  • Southeastern United States
  • Suction / methods*
  • Suction / statistics & numerical data
  • Young Adult