How to perform nasal suctioning

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Your child may need suctioning to remove excess secretions. This article explains how to perform nasal suctioning (suctioning in the nose).

Key points

  • Nasal suctioning is performed to clear mucus from the nasal passages (in the nose).
  • Make sure you know how to use the suction machine and equipment before you begin nasal suctioning on your child.
  • Talk to your child's health-care provider if you are unsure about any of the following steps.

Suctioning is done to help clear a child's airway if they cannot clear it on their own through coughing or blowing their nose. Nasal suctioning is helpful when secretions are visible in the nose or if you suspect that secretions are blocking the nasal passage. This is usually done using a catheter or small tip catheter passed into the nostril.

  1. Gather your equipment and supplies.
  2. If your child uses an oximeter, make sure it is on and providing an accurate reading.
  3. Have oxygen available, if prescribed by your child’s health-care team.
  4. Settings on a portable suction machine

    Make sure the suction machine is at the correct setting.

  5. Caregiver washing their hands

    Wash your hands well.

  6. A sterile water bottle and a labelled cup of sterile water for suctioning

    Fill a clean container with sterile water or saline.

  7. Make sure your child is in a comfortable position (lying or sitting).
  8. Suction catheter

    Attach the suction tubing to the correct size suction catheter. Keep the catheter in the packaging until just before use. Do not touch the end of the catheter that will go into your child’s nose.

  9. Dipping the catheter into sterile water before suctioning

    Suction a small amount of sterile water or saline through the suction catheter to lubricate (wet) it and make it easier to insert.

  10. Correct suctioning depthsCorrect suction depths shown for nasal, nasopharyngeal and oropharyngeal suctioning

    Insert the suction catheter into your child’s nostril to the length instructed by your healthcare team. Be careful not to force the catheter. If you meet resistance, try the other nostril. Keep your thumb off the suction control port.

  11. Suction is applied by holding the thumb over the suction control port

    Apply suction by holding your thumb over the suction control port. Slowly remove the catheter while "twirling" it between your fingers to remove mucus. Limit suctioning to 5 to 10 seconds.

  12. Dipping the catheter into sterile water before suctioning

    Once the catheter is out, clean it by dipping it in the sterile water or saline and suctioning. Repeat suctioning as needed, allowing at least 20 seconds between suctioning. Alternate nostrils each time you repeat the suctioning. Once you are finished, discard the catheter and replace the tip connector onto the suction tubing.

  13. After suctioning, assess your child’s respiratory status and oxygen needs.
  14. Pressing the on and off switch on a suction machine

    Turn off the suction unit. Empty and clean the suction drainage bottles and containers, if needed.

  15. Caregiver washing their hands

    Wash hands well. Prepare the suction equipment and supplies for the next use.

Suction catheter size:     
Depth of suction catheter insertion for suctioning:   
Suction machine pressure setting (mmHg):     
Last updated: February 20th 2020