Endotracheal anesthesia is a form of anesthesia in which inhaled gases are delivered directly into the trachea with the use of an endotracheal tube. As long as gases are supplied through the tube, the patient will remain deeply unconscious and insensate to pain. This technique is widely used for the purpose of keeping patients unconscious in surgery in a technique known as general anesthesia. It can be practiced by an anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist.
This technique is part of a family of anesthetic methods known as inhalation anesthesia. In inhalation anesthesia, a desired state of anesthesia is induced in a patient with inhaled gases. In addition to endotracheal anesthesia, anesthesiologists can also use anesthetic gases which are inhaled through a mask worn over the nose and mouth. The advantage of placing an endotracheal tube is that it ensures that the patient's airway remains secure and that drugs are delivered dependably during endotracheal anesthesia.
Placement of an endotracheal tube is not a very comfortable process. Patients are usually given drugs which will help them relax if the tube is going to be placed while they are awake and aware, and anesthesia is commonly induced with fast acting injected drugs and then maintained with the use of inhaled gases. During the surgical procedure, the anesthesiologist monitors the temperature, heart rate, and breathing of the patient and makes adjustments to the anesthesia as needed in order to keep the patient consistently anesthetized.
Once the procedure is over, the patient can be brought out of endotracheal anesthesia and the tube can be removed in a process known as extubation. This is typically accompanied with the use of analgesic medications which will help the patient manage the pain associated with the surgery. Although the patient does not feel pain while unconscious under anesthesia, the pain can become extremely intense as the patient starts to wake up.
One risk of endotracheal anesthesia is that it can cause damage to the patient's lungs. After surgery, patients are monitored for any signs of respiratory distress which could indicate a lung problem. They are also often encouraged to use a device known as an incentive spirometer which allows the patient to monitor his or her lung function while exercising the lungs to help them recover from anesthesia. A nurse will usually instruct the patient in the use of the device and may record values from spirometry sessions in the patient's chart so that the post-surgical care team can keep track of the patient's health during recovery.