April 14, 2022

Why You Get Intubated For Surgery - and What It Looks Like

Most patients get intubated, even though they don't know they will have a breathing tube during anesthesia. Dr. Kaveh explains what this tool is to place the breathing tube when you're asleep under anesthesia.

Anesthesia turns of your body and brain, otherwise you couldn’t safely tolerate surgery. This can also turn off your body's ability to breathe.

Anesthesia numbs your body's nerves, including the nerves that control your body's reflexes. Like the reflex controlling your need to breathe. My patients always ask me “what is intubation?” and “Do I REALLY need to be intubated?” Here's what you need to know about what goes in your mouth for surgery (and why!).

What is intubation?

Intubation means placing a breathing tube into your trachea. There are lots of different breathing tubes and they go in your nose or mouth. But why do ordinary people need to be intubated under anesthesia for surgery?

What does intubation have to do with Anesthesia? Do I need it for Surgery?

General anesthesia is a deep medical coma. And that deep coma turns off your brain’s nervous system. Including the parts that control your breathing. That’s why we need to support your breathing.

Furthermore, in some surgeries, we need to relax all your muscles. This is also called paralysis. This is for the safety of your surgery, so you don’t accidentally twitch your muscles. We do this with paralyzing agents.

For both reasons, most patients under general anesthesia get intubated with breathing support. Getting a breathing tube also means you need a ventilator to actually deliver oxygen to your lungs (through the breathing tube). But how do you get connected to the ventilator?

Intubation for anesthesia is to connect you to a ventilator

If you're getting a breathing tube for your surgery (not all surgeries get general anesthesia) your breathing tube needs to push in oxygen into your lungs.

The ventilator pushes oxygen, air, nitrous oxide, and other anesthesia gases into your lungs so they can reach your heart, brain, and other organs while you're under anesthesia.

What are the risks of intubation for surgery and anesthesia?

Fortunately, not all breathing tubes require intubation. I like to avoid intubation when safely possible! Why do I prefer not intubating patients?

1.     Intubation has a risk of dental damage

2.     There’s a greater risk of sorer throat with intubation

3.     Vocal cord damage is possible with intubation

4.     Intubation is simply not necessary for many outpatient surgeries

So what’s the alternative to intubation for surgery?

Check out my video where I go through the basic airway management options when you’re under anesthesia for surgery. The breakdown is:

·       Oral airway + oxygen mask: for the most minor surgeries (like sedation)

·       Laryngeal mask airway (also known as LMA): for many non-thoracic and non-abdominal surgeries

·       Intubation: the endotracheal tube can be used in all surgeries, but it’s the most invasive

Patients don’t remember being intubated for surgery

Many patients don’t ever know they had a breathing tube. This is because it’s rare to be aware of anything when you’re under anesthesia.

That’s why my patients have no memory of ever being intubated. Hence “what is intubation?” and “I didn’t have that for my last surgery!”

Naturally treat side effects of intubation

While intubation is very safe, the side effects can be bothersome. Check out my article on naturally treating these side effects of intubation.

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