Background Instillation of isotonic sodium chloride solution for endotracheal tube suctioning is controversial. Research has focused on the effect of such instillation in adults; no studies in children have been published.

Objectives (1) To describe differences in oxygen saturation depending on whether or not isotonic sodium chloride solution is instilled during suctioning and (2) to describe the rates of occlusion of endotracheal tubes and nosocomial pneumonia.

Methods A convenience sample of 24 critically ill patients were enrolled before having suctioning and after informed consent had been given. Ages ranged from 10 weeks to 14 years. Patients were randomized to 1 of 2 groups. In group 1, subjects received between 0.5 and 2.0 mL of isotonic sodium chloride solution, depending on their age, once per suctioning episode. In group 2, subjects received no such solution. A total of 104 suctioning episodes were analyzed. Oxygen saturation was recorded at predetermined intervals before and for 10 minutes after suctioning. Occlusion of endotracheal tubes and rates of nosocomial pneumonia also were compared.

Results Patients who had isotonic sodium chloride solution instilled experienced significantly greater oxygen desaturation 1 and 2 minutes after suctioning than did patients who did not. No occlusions of endotracheal tubes and no cases of nosocomial pneumonia occurred in either group.

Conclusions Results of this study support a growing body of evidence that instillation of isotonic sodium chloride solution during endotracheal tube suctioning may not be beneficial and actually may be harmful.

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