Endotracheal Tubes for Critically Ill Patients: An In Vivo Analysis of Associated Tracheal Injury, Mucociliary Clearance, and Sealing Efficacy

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Improvements in the design of the endotracheal tube (ETT) have been achieved in recent years. We evaluated tracheal injury associated with ETTs with novel high-volume low-pressure (HVLP) cuffs and subglottic secretions aspiration (SSA) and the effects on mucociliary clearance (MCC).


Twenty-nine pigs were intubated with ETTs comprising cylindrical or tapered cuffs and made of polyvinylchloride (PVC) or polyurethane. In specific ETTs, SSA was performed every 2 h. Following 76 h of mechanical ventilation, pigs were weaned and extubated. Images of the tracheal wall were recorded before intubation, at extubation, and 24 and 96 h thereafter through a fluorescence bronchoscope. We calculated the red-to-green intensity ratio (R/G), an index of tracheal injury, and the green-plus-blue (G+B) intensity, an index of normalcy, of the most injured tracheal regions. MCC was assessed through fluoroscopic tracking of radiopaque markers. After 96 h from extubation, pigs were killed, and a pathologist scored injury.


Cylindrical cuffs presented a smaller increase in R/G vs tapered cuffs (P = .011). Additionally, cuffs made of polyurethane produced a minor increase in R/G (P = .012) and less G+B intensity decline (P = .022) vs PVC cuffs. Particularly, a cuff made of polyurethane and with a smaller outer diameter outperformed all cuffs. SSA-related histologic injury ranged from cilia loss to subepithelial inflammation. MCC was 0.9 ± 1.8 and 0.4 ± 0.9 mm/min for polyurethane and PVC cuffs, respectively (P < .001).


HVLP cuffs and SSA produce tracheal injury, and the recovery is incomplete up to 96 h following extubation. Small, cylindrical-shaped cuffs made of polyurethane cause less injury. MCC decline is reduced with polyurethane cuffs.

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