UMEM Educational Pearls

Mechanically Ventilated ED Patients and Secretion Mobilization

  • As more of our intubated ED patients remain in the ED for longer periods of time, some may develop problems with secretion management (thick/copious amounts of sputum).
  • The preferred method of secretion mobilization is heated humidification.
  • If you anticipate the duration of intubation to be at least 96 hours, have your respiratory therapist set up a heated humidifier.
  • Commonly, clinicians and nurses will instill 5-10 ml of isotonic saline to thin secretions.
  • The use of saline to thin secretions is unsupported by the literature and carries a small risk of dislodging the bacterial laden biofilm that covers the endotracheal tube.


Robinson BRH, Athota KP, Branson RD. Inhalational therapies in the ICU. Curr Opin Crit Care 2009;15:1-9.