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What is Endotracheal Anesthesia?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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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.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon989845 — On Mar 24, 2015

Wow, you guys have no idea about anesthesia at all, which is fine considering you're not professionals, but why make assumptions without knowing first? I administer anesthesia on a nearly daily basis. GETA is performed for about 80-90 percent of surgeries performed. Inhalation gases rarely (if ever, really) cause damage to the lungs. If damage is present after the procedure, it was from the mechanical ventilation that had to be done during the case.

The only other option for general anesthesia is IV medication to keep you asleep, but that is not as smooth as inhalation agents because they constantly have to give you doses to keep you asleep (unless they put the medication on a pump and therefore deliver a continuous infusion). Most patients receive inhalation agents but have no idea they did. The same is true for intubation (breathing tube). Most patients don't know they had one for their surgery.

By allenJo — On Sep 16, 2011

@MrMoody - Anesthesia complications are certainly an important consideration, but I think the risks are minimal. Most cases I’ve heard about had to do with patients who had some weird reactions to anesthesia in the past. Doctors would usually make a note of this and choose a different general anesthetic.

As for endotracheal anesthesia, I wouldn’t have a problem with it at all. I like the idea of having my airways open all the time during surgery and having a steady flow of the medication delivered while the surgery is taking place.

By MrMoody — On Sep 15, 2011

@Charred - That’s true – most patients do not know the myriad of choices available to them for anesthetics.

However, I believe doctors generally inform patients about the kind of anesthetic that will be used, and I would hope inform them of the risk.

Just from what I’ve read here, the risk of damage to the lungs is enough to sway me from wanting this anesthetic used.

By Charred — On Sep 15, 2011

@everetra - Anesthesia management is a tricky subject. I don’t think physicians make the best choices all the time about what approaches to use.

As for patient choice, how many patients really know the different kinds of options that are available to them?

I’ve had one experience with gas type anesthesia, and that was when I went to the dentist once and he offered me the infamous laughing gas; it didn’t make me laugh, but it sure made me light headed. I went with standard local anesthesia after that.

By everetra — On Sep 14, 2011

Personally, I wouldn’t prefer general endotracheal anesthesia as one of the types of anesthesia administered in the case of surgery.

I find the whole procedure ironic, actually. In order to get this anesthesia, you have to have a tube inserted into your body; you certainly can’t do that without pain medication, so they have to give you an anesthetic!

Perhaps I am oversimplifying it but I’d rather have a different approach. I realize this may be standard operating procedure for some surgeries, but I still think you have options.

I heard of one man who had complete bypass surgery without having this kind of anesthesia at all, so I know you have options.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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