Reprinted from RESPIRATORY CARE (Respir Care 1992;37:898-901)

AARC Clinical Practice Guideline

Nasotracheal Suctioning


Nasotracheal suctioning (NTS) is a component of bronchial hygiene therapy.


NTS is intended to remove accumulated secretions, blood, vomitus, and other foreign material from the trachea that cannot be removed by the patient's spontaneous cough or other less invasive procedures. NTS has been used to avoid intubation that was solely intended for the removal of secretions.(1-4)

NTS refers to the insertion of a suction catheter through the nasal passage and pharynx into the trachea in order to aspirate accumulated secretions or foreign material.(3)

The clearance of secretions is accomplished by application of subatmospheric pressure.(5)


NTS is performed in a wide variety of settings, and this guideline applies to patients of all ages.

3.1 Critical care
3.2 Emergency room or department
3.3 Inpatient acute care
3.4 Extended care and skilled nursing facility care
3.5 Home care
3.6 Outpatient or ambulatory care


The need to maintain a patent airway and remove secretions or foreign material from the trachea in the presence of

4.1 inability to clear secretions;(6)
4.2 audible evidence of secretions in the large/central airways that persist in spite of patient's best cough effort.(4,7,8-10)


Listed contraindications are relative unless marked as absolute.

5.1 Occluded nasal passages
5.2 Nasal bleeding
5.3 Epiglottitis or croup (absolute)
5.4 Acute head, facial, or neck injury
5.5 Coagulopathy or bleeding disorder(2)
5.6 Laryngospasm(2)
5.7 Irritable airway
5.8 Upper respiratory tract infection


6.1 Mechanical trauma(10-15)
6.1.1 Laceration of nasal turbinates(5,7,16)
6.1.2 Perforation of the pharynx(17)
6.1.3 Nasal irritation/bleeding(16,18)
6.1.4 Tracheitis
6.1.5 Mucosal hemorrhage(13)
6.2 Hypoxia/hypoxemia(1,14,19-21)
6.3 Cardiac dysrhythmias/arrest(3,7,14,15)
6.4 Bradycardia(1,19,22-24)
6.5 Increase in blood pressure(1,19,21)
6.6 Hypotension(1,19)
6.7 Respiratory arrest(7)
6.8 Uncontrolled coughing(1,15,18)
6.9 Gagging/vomiting(18,25)
6.10 Laryngospasm(1,2,7)
6.11 Bronchoconstriction/bronchospasm(1,14,15)
6.12 Pain(18)
6.13 Nosocomial infection(15,16,23)
6.14 Atelectasis(5,14)
6.15 Misdirection of catheter((15,18)
6.16 Increased intracranial pressure (ICP)(21,26,27)
6.16.1 Intraventricular hemorrhage(21)
6.16.2 Exacerbation of cerebral edema


7.1 NTS is a blind, high-risk procedure with uncertain outcome.(18,24)
7.2 NTS should not be used to stimulate a cough.
7.3 Risks are increased in a combative or uncooperative patient.
7.4 Duration of application of subatmospheric pressure, or suction, should be limited to < or = 15 seconds.(20,28)
7.5 Controversy exists concerning possible overuse of this procedure.(5,8,10)


8.1 Personnel should auscultate chest for indications for NT suctioning.(1,29)
8.2 Personnel should assess effectiveness of cough.


9.1 Effectiveness of NTS should be reflected by improved breath sounds.
9.2 Effectiveness of NTS should be reflected by removal of secretions.


10.1 Equipment:
10.1.1 Vacuum source(1)
10.1.2 Calibrated, adjustable regulator(30 )
10.1.3 Collection vessel and connecting tubing(1)
10.1.4 Sterile suction catheter of appropriate caliber(1,8,29)
10.1.5 Sterile disposable gloves(1,8)
10.1.6 Sterile water and cup(1,8)
10.1.7 Sterile normal saline--amount adequate for irrigation (5-10 mL for adults)(1,8,31)
10.1.8 Water-based lubricant(1,8)
10.1.9 Local anesthetic is sometimes used to reduce discomfort.(1)
10.1.10 Nasopharyngeal airway when frequent NTS is required(1,18,29)
10.1.11 Resuscitation bag with mask(1,23,29,31)
In the acute care setting, with initiation of NTS, or when working with the unstable patient, the following are recommended.
10.1.12 EKG monitor
10.1.13 Oxygen(1,20,28,32,33)
10.1.14 Personnel protective equipment for Universal Precautions(34,35)
10.2 Personnel:
10.2.1 Level I caregiver may be the provider of service after Level II personnel have established need by patient assessment and the first NTS episode has been completed. Level I personnel must demonstrate knowledge of proper assembly and use of equipment;(7) knowledge of upper airway anatomy and physiology;(7,23) ability to recognize secretion retention on auscultation;(1) ability to monitor vital signs and assess patient's condition and response to procedure; ability to recognize and re-spond to adverse reactions and compli-cations of procedures; ability to employ technique of cardiopulmonary resuscitation when indicated; ability to evaluate and document procedure effectiveness and patient response.
10.2.2 Level II provider initially assesses the patient, determines the need for NTS, and evaluates response to and effectiveness of first episode.Level II personnel have all the skills of Level I providers plus: knowledge and understanding of patient's disease, goals, and limitation of NTS;(23) recognition and understanding of basis of pathophysiology; ability to perform initial treatment and be available to troubleshoot the procedure; ability to modify techniques and equipment and take definitive action in response to adverse reaction; ability to detect adverse reactions and avoid patient harm by em-ploying techniques of cardiopulmonary resuscitation with mechanical airway adjuncts and bag-mask devices; knowledge of basic EKG and dysrhythmia recognition; knowledge of signs and symptoms of decreased cardiac output, oxygenation, and perfusion; ability to teach Level I and lay personnel providing home care.
10.2.3 Home care should be provided by lay personnel trained and knowledgeable in proper assembly and use of equipment; correct positioning of patient; proper suctioning technique; assessment of patient response to procedure; response to adverse reaction; care and cleaning of equipment.


The following should be monitored during and following the procedure.
11.1 Breath sounds
11.2 Skin color(36)
11.3 Breathing pattern and rate
11.4 Pulse rate, dysrhythmia, EKG if available
11.5 Color, consistency, and volume of secretions
11.6 Presence of bleeding or evidence of physical trauma
11.7 Subjective response including pain(25)
11.8 Cough
11.9 Oxygenation (pulse oximeter if available)
11.10 Intracranial pressure (ICP), if equipment is available


Nasotracheal suctioning should be performed only when absolutely necessary and other methods to remove secretions from airway have failed.(4,5,8,10,29)


13.1 CDC Guidelines for Universal Precautions should be adhered to.(35)
13.2 All equipment and supplies should be appropriately disposed of or disinfected.
Bronchial Hygiene Guidelines Committee:

Lana Hilling RCP CRTT, Chairman, Concord CA
Eric Bakow MA RRT, Pittsburgh PA
James Fink MS RCP RRT, San Francisco CA
Chris Kelly BA RCP RRT, Oakland CA
Dennis Sobush MA PT, Milwaukee WI
Peter A Southorn MD, Rochester MN

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  23. Scanlon CL, Spearman CB, Sheldon RL, Egan DF, eds. Egan's fundamentals of respiratory care, 5th edition. St Louis: CV Mosby, 1990:483-486.
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Interested persons may copy these Guidelines for noncommercial purposes of scientific or educational advancement. Please credit AARC and Respiratory Care Journal.

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