Background: Limited data suggest that increased resistance to flow within endotracheal tubes (ETT) may occur in patients whose lungs are mechanically ventilated for more than 48 h, especially when airway humidification is inadequate. This could lead to sudden ETT obstruction or induce excessive loading during spontaneous breathing.
Methods: Twenty-three such patients were randomly assigned to three types of airway humidifier based on three different working principles: a Fisher Paykell hot water system (n = 7), a Pall BB2215 heat and moisture exchanger (HME) hydrophobic filter (n = 8), and a Dar Hygrobac 35254111 HME hygroscopic filter (n = 8). The decrease in internal pressure along the ETT and the flow rate were measured in each patient every 2 days. An "effective inner diameter" was derived from these measurements and allowed the inner ETT configuration to be monitored.
Results: On the first day of intubation, the mean diameter was similar in the three groups, and was slightly smaller than the in vitro diameter (mean +/- SD: 7.6 +/- 0.6 mm for Fisher-Paykell, 7.7 +/- 0.4 for Pall, and 7.5 +/- 0.4 for Dar). The mean diameter tended to decrease from day to day. At the end of the study, the overall reduction in mean diameter was significantly greater with the hydrophobic HME (Pall) than with the two other systems (Pall: -6.5 +/- 4% vs. 2.5 +/- 2.5% for Dar and 1.5 +/- 3% for Fisher-Paykell; P < 0.01 with analysis of variance). The same was true of the mean reduction in effective inner ETT diameter expressed per day of ventilation (-1.6 +/- 1.5% per day for Pall vs. -0.5 +/- 0.4% for Dar and -0.2 +/- 0.4% for Fisher-Paykell; P < 0.01). In four patients, the ETT became obstructed and emergency repeated tracheal intubation was required. The Pall HME and the Fisher-Paykell system were being used in three and one patient, respectively. Before obstruction, the reduction in ETT diameter was significantly greater for these four patients than for the remaining 23 patients (7.8 +/- 1.4% vs. 3.1 +/- 4.1%; P < 0.01).
Conclusions: During prolonged mechanical ventilation, significant alterations in inner ETT configuration occur frequently and are influenced by the type of humidification device used. In vivo monitoring of ETT mechanical properties might be clinically useful.