by EBSCO Medical Review Board


Intubation places a tube in the throat to help move air in and out of the lungs. Mechanical ventilation is the use of a machine to move the air in and out of the lungs.

Endotracheal Intubation
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Reasons for Procedure

This is often done in an emergency to help a person breathe. Breathing problems may be due to an injury or illness.

It may also be done during surgery. Anesthesia can cause breathing problems.

Possible Complications

Problems are rare, but all procedures have some risk. The doctor will go over some problems that could happen, such as:

  • Infection
  • Damage to teeth, lips, or tongue
  • A collapsed or injured lung
  • Damage to the trachea or voice box resulting in pain, hoarseness, or problems breathing

Things that may raise the risk of problems are:

What to Expect

Prior to Procedure

If mechanical ventilation will be part of surgery, the care team may meet with you to talk about:

  • Anesthesia options
  • Any allergies you may have
  • Current medicines, herbs, and supplements that you take and whether you need to stop taking them before surgery
  • Fasting before surgery, such as avoiding food or drink after midnight the night before


The doctor may give:

  • Sedation—you will be in a relaxed state
  • Local anesthesia—the throat will be numbed
  • General anesthesia—you will be asleep

Description of the Procedure

Your head will be tilted back. A scope will be used to open the airway and view inside the throat. One end of a breathing tube will be passed through the airway and into the lower windpipe. The scope will be removed. The tube will be secured.

A flexible tube will be attached to the breathing tube and connected to a ventilator machine. The machine will move air in and out of the lungs. Some ventilation can be done with a tube inserted through the nose instead of the mouth.

Immediately After Procedure

Right after the procedure, the doctor will:

  • Listen to the lungs to make sure air is moving to both lungs
  • Do a chest x-ray to make sure the tip of the tube is in the right place
  • Measure the level of gases in the blood to make sure enough air is moving

How Long Will It Take?

It will take less 5 minutes to put the breathing tube in. How long the ventilator is used depends on the reason why it is needed.

Will It Hurt?

A sore throat is common for a few days after the tube is removed.

Average Hospital Stay

The length of stay will depend on why you needed support.

Post-procedure Care

At the Hospital

People are not able to eat, drink, or talk until the tube is removed. Nutrients and fluids will be given through an IV.

Call Your Doctor

Call your doctor if you are not feeling better or you have:

  • Signs of infection, such as fever or chills
  • Problems breathing
  • Lasting cough
  • A hoarse voice

If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.


American Lung Association 

Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America 


Health Canada 

The Lung Association 


Goligher E, Ferguson ND. Mechanical ventilation: epidemiological insights into current practices. Curr Opin Crit Care. 2009 Feb;15(1):44-51.

Mechanical ventilation. American Thoracic Society website. Available at: Accessed December 10, 2020.

Mechanical ventilation. Anaesthesia & Intensive Care website. Available at: Accessed December 10, 2020.

Mechanical ventilation. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Accessed December 10, 2020.

Ventilator/ventilator support. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: Accessed December 10, 2020.

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Marcin Chwistek, MD
  • Review Date: 09/2020
  • Update Date: 04/21/2021