BACKGROUND: Instillation of normal saline before suctioning is a common nursing intervention although little research supports the practice. OBJECTIVES: To determine when and how often saline is used during suctioning and to assess the knowledge of nurses and respiratory therapists of the advantages and dangers of using saline during endotracheal suctioning. METHODS: A survey of nurses and respiratory therapists working in adult ICUs was conducted in a large university teaching hospital. RESULTS: Of the 187 respondents, 96 (51%) rarely instill saline before suctioning, whereas 61 (33%) frequently use saline. Fifty-five percent use saline to enhance retrieval of secretions, and 45% use it to stimulate a cough. Nurses and respiratory therapists differ in their use and understanding of saline instillation. Most nurses (64%) rarely use saline before suctioning, whereas most respiratory therapists (71%) frequently use saline. Respiratory therapists (57%) were more aware than were nurses (37%) of the benefit of using normal saline to stimulate a cough. Nurses indicated more adverse effects of instillation of normal saline, specifically oxygen desaturation and increased risk of pulmonary infections, than did respiratory therapists. CONCLUSION: The results of the survey helped determine target areas for educational programs for nurses and respiratory therapists. A protocol is being developed for use by all who do suctioning.

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