Suctioning is used to obtain secretions and cells from the trachea and large bronchi and is typically limited to people who are on mechanical ventilation. It is used to obtain specimens for microscopic examination or culture and to help clear secretions from the airways when cough is inadequate.
One end of a long, flexible, clear plastic tube is attached to a suction pump; the other end is passed through a nostril or the mouth and into the trachea. When the tube is in position, suction is applied in intermittent bursts lasting 2 to 5 seconds. With people who have a tube in the neck that leads to the trachea (tracheostomy) or a tube in the nose or mouth that leads to the trachea (endotracheal tube), the suctioning tube can be inserted directly into the tube that leads to the trachea. Sometimes inserting some salt water into the tube that leads to the trachea eases removal of secretions and cells via suctioning.