Skip to Content



Rebecca Dezube

, MD, MHS, Johns Hopkins University

Last full review/revision Jul 2019| Content last modified Jul 2019

Suctioning is used to obtain mucus and other fluids (secretions) and cells from the windpipe (trachea) and large airways (bronchi) and is typically used in people who are on mechanical ventilation or have problems with nerves or muscles that make coughing less effective for bringing up secretions. Suctioning is used to obtain specimens for microscopic examination or culture when doctors need to identify what organism is causing a lung infection and to help remove secretions from the airways when cough is inadequate.

One end of a long, flexible, clear plastic tube is attached to a suction pump; the other end is passed through a nostril or the mouth and into the trachea. When the tube is in position, suction is applied in intermittent bursts lasting 2 to 5 seconds. With people who have a tube in the neck that leads to the trachea (tracheostomy) or a tube in the nose or mouth that leads to the trachea (endotracheal tube), the suctioning tube can be inserted directly into the tube that leads to the trachea. Sometimes inserting some salt water into the tube that leads to the trachea eases removal of secretions and cells via suctioning.

(See also Medical History and Physical Examination for Lung Disorders and Respiratory System.)

Copyright © 2021 Merck & Co., Inc., known as MSD outside of the US, Kenilworth, New Jersey, USA. All rights reserved. Merck Manual Disclaimer