Objectives: To assess the swallowing reflex after prolonged endotracheal intubation and to assess the influence of age and duration of intubation on this reflex.
Design: Prospective, observational, clinical study.
Setting: The intensive care unit of a university teaching hospital.
Patients: The swallowing reflex was studied after extubation in 34 patients and compared with the deglutition in 30 nonintubated patients with a nasogastric tube and 15 nonintubated patients without a nasogastric tube.
Interventions: Four volumes of normal saline (0.25, 0.50, 0.75, and 1 mL) were injected at the epipharynx level. Swallowing efficiency was assessed by the latency between instillation and the first swallow, as identified on a submental electromyogram. The tests were performed immediately (day 0), and at 1 (day 1), 2 (day 2), and 7 (day 7) days after extubation in the intubated group. Nonintubated patients were tested once.
Measurements and main results: On day 0, the latency was increased for each bolus in the extubated group when compared with the control groups. Significant shortening of latency after 0.50, 0.75, and 1 mL injections of normal saline occurred on days 1 and 2 when compared with day 0, whereas no change was observed after 0.25 mL of normal saline was injected. On day 7, a significant improvement was observed, regardless of the volume injected. There was no correlation between swallowing latency and either the age of the patients or the duration of endotracheal intubation.
Conclusions: These data indicate that prolonged endotracheal intubation impairs the swallowing reflex, with improvement within 1 wk. This phenomenon could contribute to microinhalations and aspiration pneumonia after extubation.