Without evidence of benefit, an intervention should not be presumed to be beneficial or safe.

- Rogue Medic

Should you hold your breath while intubating?

 

This is one of the ancient bits of street wisdom common sense about intubating. If you hold your breath while intubating, you will know when the patient needs to take a breath.

As with much of common sense, it is based on mythology.
 

Never take more than 30 seconds per attempt at each intubation!
Hint: Hold your breath while intubating – when you need to take a breath, so does the patient!
[1]

 

60 pct of the time, it works every time 1
Typical intubation instructor?
 

Obviously, this idea came about long before apneic oxygenation. No, . . . . Wait, it could be that apneic oxygenation came first, since papers were being written about apneic oxygenation long before paramedics were sent out to spread the word of the benefits of unrecognized esophageal intubation close enough for prehospital intubation.[2],[3],[4]

It could be that some anesthesiologists thought breath holding while intubating was a good idea, but I did not find any papers.

Apneic oxygenation can prevent desaturation for much longer than 30 seconds, yet many of us still emphasize fast and bloody, rather than slow and benign.

If the patient can hold her breath for as long as I can, she may be breathing as well as I am breathing, and may not need to be intubated. How do I really know when my patient needs to take a breath?

If I can only hold my breath for as long as a patient who needs to be intubated, then I may be breathing as badly as she is, and I may need intubation more than she does. How long can a paramedic hold his breath before becoming hypoxic and/or confused? How good am I at recognizing this change when I am focused on putting the little plastic tube in the slightly larger cartilage and flesh tube?

If the patient does not need to be intubated, why intubate? If I need to be intubated, should I be the one intubating anyone else? If I can hold my breath longer than the average paramedic, should I take up smoking to make this technique work for me? Should we be testing paramedics on how long a breath can be held as part of the hiring process?

I am shocked that such a simple one size fits all approach fails to consider even one of the many variables that would affect its use. How could that possibly happen in EMS?

Footnotes:

[1] Widely circulated, unwritten paper
The Mythbuilders of EMS
Trust us.
We know what we’re doing.

[2] Oxygen uptake in human lungs without spontaneous or artificial pulmonary ventilation.
ENGHOFF H, HOLMDAHL MH, RISHOLM L.
Acta Chir Scand. 1952 Jul 14;103(4):293-301. No abstract available.
PMID: 12985091

[3] Pulmonary uptake of oxygen, acid-base metabolism, and circulation during prolonged apnoea.
HOLMDAHL MH.
Acta Chir Scand Suppl. 1956;212:1-128. No abstract available.
PMID: 13326155

[4] Apneic oxygenation in man.
FRUMIN MJ, EPSTEIN RM, COHEN G.
Anesthesiology. 1959 Nov-Dec;20:789-98. No abstract available.
PMID: 13825447

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