An endotracheal tube is a flexible plastic tube that is placed through the mouth into the trachea (windpipe) to help a patient breathe. The endotracheal tube is then connected to a ventilator, which delivers oxygen to the lungs. The process of inserting the tube is called endotracheal intubation.
An endotracheal tube may be placed when a patient is unable to breathe on her own, due to a medical emergency, serious illness, or during surgery when a general anesthetic is used.
With general anesthesia, the muscles of the body including the diaphragm are paralyzed, and placing an endotracheal tube allows the ventilator to do the work of breathing.
Sometimes after lung cancer surgery, an endotracheal tube connected to a ventilator is left in place to help with breathing after surgery. In this case, medications are used to ease anxiety until the tube is removed. Since an endotracheal tube passes between the vocal cords, individuals are unable to talk when the tube is in place. Following surgery with a general anesthetic, some people feel a sore throat or hoarseness for awhile from having the endotracheal tube in place.