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Intubation can be lifesaving, but it does come with the potential to cause complications. A sore throat is one of the most common side effects.

Intubation is when an endotracheal tube is inserted into your airways through your nose or mouth. This tube helps keep your airways open so that a machine can deliver oxygen and help you breathe.

Doctors use intubation in emergency situations when you can’t breathe on your own and before some planned surgeries that require general anesthetic. General anesthetic is a medication that makes you unconscious for your procedure.

Studies have reported sore throat as a complication of intubation after surgery in anywhere from 14.4–90% of people.

In most cases, a sore throat is mild and resolves within a couple of days without any specific treatment. In rare cases, you may need further medical attention. Keep reading to learn more about how to treat a sore throat after intubation.

Having a sore throat after receiving intubation is common. The severity of discomfort can range from mild to severe.

Despite being uncomfortable, a sore throat generally goes away without any specific treatment. Home remedies or over-the-counter treatments can potentially help ease your symptoms.

Home remedies and over-the-counter treatments

Home remedies that may help reduce soreness in your throat include:

  • avoiding acidic foods like citrus and tomatoes
  • speaking as little as you can
  • sucking on cough drop or candies to help keep your throat moist
  • drinking plenty of fluids
  • eating cold foods like popsicles or frozen yogurt
  • gargling saltwater
  • avoiding irritants such as smoke or cleaning products
  • drinking hot tea or tea with honey

Learn more about home remedies for treating a sore throat.

Over-the-counter treatments that may help reduce your sore throat include:

  • over-the-counter cough drops that contain benzocaine or other anesthetics
  • pain relievers like acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil)
  • pain-relieving throat sprays
  • medicated mouth rinses like those containing benzylamine hydrochloride

Medical treatments

In some cases, medical treatment may be needed to treat complications of intubation that lead to a sore throat. Medical treatment options include:

  • surgery to repair damaged vocal cords or other throat injury
  • antibiotics to treat bacterial infections like tracheitis
  • removal of fluid or blood buildup

Additionally, researchers in a 2018 review of studies found that applying a topical solution of corticosteroids to tracheal tubes seems to help prevent postsurgical sore throats.

Research suggests that the amount of bacteria in your mouth is elevated while the breathing tube is in place. Plaque can grow within hours of not brushing your teeth and can spread rapidly if it isn’t removed. Plaque can contain bacteria that lead to pneumonia if they reach your lungs.

Hospital staff can help you maintain good oral health during your hospital stay, but you can also take steps to keep your mouth clean beforehand, such as:

  • Undergo a preventive dental visit before surgery to treat any preexisting dental conditions.
  • Brush your teeth for at least 2 minutes, with at least 30 seconds in each quadrant of your mouth. Finish by brushing your tongue.
  • Rinse your mouth with mouthwash, swishing it around your mouth for 20–30 seconds.
  • Floss your teeth or use interdental cleaners.
  • Remove dental appliances like dentures or retainers after each meal and rinse them with water between uses.

A sore throat is a common complication of intubation. Factors that may contribute to the development of a sore throat include:

  • dehydration
  • irritation from the intubation equipment
  • swelling
  • lack of blood flow to your throat due to the endotracheal tube cuffs
  • aggressive throat suctioning
  • erosion of tissue in your throat from friction with the endotracheal tube

Severe soreness might be caused by injury to the tissues in your throat. Post-intubation tracheal laceration is incredibly rare, estimated to occur in 1 in 100,000 intubations. But even though it is rare, you may need surgical treatment.

Researchers have identified some risk factors for the development of a sore throat after surgery requiring intubation. These include:

  • being female
  • smoking
  • intubation difficulty
  • suxamethonium use
  • high endotracheal cuff pressure
  • airway suctioning
  • long duration of surgery
  • laryngeal mask
  • injury from laryngoscopy
  • larger size of endotracheal tubes

Intubation can cause other complications, such as:

  • damage to your vocal cords
  • bleeding in your throat
  • throat infections
  • collapsed lung
  • injury to your throat or windpipe
  • damage to your teeth or dental work

Most of the time, a sore throat only lasts a few days after intubation. Some people with severe injury to their throat might have symptoms for longer or need additional treatment.

The development of a sore throat is a common complication of intubation. For most people, it can be treated with home remedies like avoiding irritating foods and eating chilled foods. Medical treatment may be necessary for some people who have a severe throat injury.