Lip Injury During Intubation: Understanding the Risks and Prevention Methods

lip injury during intubation

In the high-stakes world of anesthesia and surgical procedures, lip injury during intubation may seem like a minor concern. However, anyone who has experienced or dealt with this issue will attest to its seriousness. While intubation is a routine part of many surgeries, it carries risks that can manifest unexpectedly. Lip injuries during intubation are one such risk, often overlooked but with the potential for significant complications.

How does this injury occur, and what are its implications for the healthcare provider and the patient? Stay tuned as we delve deep into this subject, examining its causes, consequences, and preventive measures.

How do lip injuries during intubation occur?

Lip injuries during intubation are not merely a side note in medical procedures; they hold substantial importance regarding patient safety and comfort. So, how do these injuries occur?

Causes and Mechanisms

Several factors contribute to the likelihood of a lip injury during intubation. These include, but are not limited to, the skill and experience of the anesthesiologist, the specific tools used, and the patient’s anatomical considerations. The injury usually occurs either while inserting the endotracheal intubation tube through the mouth or during its removal.

Operator Error

While healthcare providers are trained rigorously, human error can still contribute. Poor visibility, hurried actions due to an emergency, or even a slight misjudgment can lead to a lip injury.


The type of laryngoscope blade used, its size, and how it’s manipulated can play significant roles in causing an injury. Sometimes, the blade might exert excess pressure on the lips, causing bruising or cuts.

Patient Factors

Some patients are more susceptible to lip injuries due to dry or chapped lips, previous lip or facial surgeries, or specific anatomical features that make the intubation process more challenging.

Situational Constraints

In emergencies or difficult intubations, the risk of lip injuries increases substantially. The urgency and stress of the moment can lead to a lack of gentle maneuvering, increasing the potential for harm.

Understanding these various elements highlights the complexity surrounding this seemingly straightforward procedure and underscores the need for preventative measures to ensure patient safety and comfort.

What are lip pressure injuries?

acute respiratory distress syndrome

Lip pressure injuries are localized damage to the lips, often caused by sustained pressure or friction against a hard surface, like medical equipment or dental appliances.

These injuries can manifest as chapped lips, bruising, or even open sores and are usually a concern in prolonged medical procedures such as intubation or dental surgeries.

While often considered minor, if left unaddressed, these injuries can lead to complications such as infections or prolonged healing, making them a noteworthy consideration in patient care.

Traumatic lip pressure injuries from intubation treatment

While the primary focus for intubated patients is to secure the patient’s airway, a seldom-discussed but significant issue is the occurrence of traumatic lip pressure injuries from intubation treatment. Although considered minor in the grand scope of emergency care, these injuries can cause considerable discomfort and lead to further complications if not properly managed.

Underlying Mechanisms

The first aspect to consider is the underlying mechanisms of how these injuries occur. During intubation, laryngoscopes and endotracheal tubes are almost always required. As these devices are manipulated to secure the airway, the upper and lower lips often endure unnatural pressure and traction. The result can be lacerations, bruising, and sometimes more severe tissue damage.

Potential Complications

While the immediate ramifications might seem trivial, the longer-term complications can be far more serious.

  • A minor lip injury can become a portal for infection, especially in hospital settings with a high risk of bacterial exposure.
  • The patient’s ability to eat and speak might be compromised, affecting their overall quality of life post-recovery.

Treatment Approaches

  1. Immediate Assessment for Risk Factors: One of the crucial steps is to promptly identify the presence of a lip injury post-intubation, especially in patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome, who may be more susceptible.
  2. Ice Application to Prevent Facial Pressure Ulcers: Apply ice or a cold compress to the affected area, including the left lower lip ulcer, to minimize swelling and reduce pain.
  3. Suturing for Severe Lacerations: For more severe lacerations, sutures may be needed. This becomes particularly important in cases where intraoperative acquired pressure ulcers have developed.
  4. Use of Topical Antibiotics: Topical antibiotics can help prevent bacterial infection at the site of the injury, reducing the risk of oral commissure ulcers secondary to the primary injury.
  5. Endotracheal Tube Holder Protects Against Further Injury: Using an endotracheal tube holder instead of a tube and adhesive tape can minimize the chances of exacerbating the injury.
  6. Thin Silicone Foam Dressings: These can be particularly useful in treating and preventing pressure ulcers, providing a softer surface against the sensitive skin area.
  7. Monitoring the Healing Process: Close observation is crucial, especially if endotracheal tubes are still in use, to catch and treat potential complications like scarring or secondary infections.

By following these treatment steps, healthcare providers for hospitalized patients can more effectively manage lip pressure injuries, thereby reducing both immediate and long-term complications.

Strategies to Minimize Lip Injury from Intubation

  • Endotracheal Tube Positioning: Proper positioning of the endotracheal tube is essential to minimize the risk of soft tissue injuries like depressed scar notch deformity.
  • Endotracheal Tube Fastener: Utilizing a reliable endotracheal tube fastener can secure breathing tubes, reducing lip injury risk.
  • Preformed Endotracheal Tubes: Opt for preformed endotracheal tubes as an alternative to traditional tubes to minimize the risk associated with tube adhesive tape.
  • Endotracheal Tube Holder: Modern endotracheal tube holders are more effective for securing endotracheal tubes, offering better protection against traumatic ulcers than older methods.
  • Prolonged Prone Ventilation: Be cautious during prolonged prone ventilation, as it can contribute to pressure points affecting the developed upper lip and even cause mainly cheek ulcers.

By considering these factors, healthcare providers can take comprehensive measures to treat traumatic facial and lip ulcers and effectively prevent facial and lip ulcer injuries from intubation.

The Role of Endotracheal Tube Adhesive Tape in Intubation Safety

treat traumatic ulcers

Intubation is a medical procedure often performed in emergencies or surgeries to secure the patient’s airway. One component that plays a critical role in the safety and effectiveness of this procedure is the endotracheal tube adhesive tape.

Importance of Proper Tube Securing

Securing the endotracheal tube properly is vital to avoid accidental extubation and minimize trauma to the lips and oral cavity. The tape stabilizes the endotracheal tube location and minimizes it in its correct position, reducing the risks associated with tube movement.

Types of Adhesive Tapes and Their Efficacy

While various adhesive tapes can be used, choosing one that provides strong adhesion yet can be removed without causing skin damage is crucial. The quality of the adhesive tape securing you can directly influence the likelihood of lip injury or other complications.

Risk Factors

The risk factors for an endotracheal tube location, dislodgment, or lip injury can be drastically reduced by using quality endotracheal tube adhesive tape. These factors include patient movement, surgical positioning, or even the length of the surgery itself.

Best Practices

The application technique is also pivotal. The tape should be applied in such a way that it does not exert undue pressure on the lips or surrounding tissues. This minimizes the risk of pressure ulcers or lip injuries.

Latest Research and Recommendations

Recent studies have shed light on the optimal types of adhesive tapes to use, recommending options that are hypoallergenic, easy to remove, yet secure enough to withstand various clinical scenarios.

By giving due attention to the type and application of endotracheal tube adhesive tape, medical professionals can significantly reduce the risk of complications, including lip injuries, during intubation. Thus, this seemingly simple component substantially affects overall patient safety and procedure efficacy.

Lip pressure ulcers

Lip pressure ulcers are localized injuries on the lips due to prolonged pressure or friction, often exacerbated by poor moisture control. These traumatic lip ulcers can be particularly troublesome, affecting function and aesthetics.

Identification: Recognizable by red or darkened areas that may progress to open sores, lip pressure ulcers are often painful to the touch. The tissue affected by pressure ulcers usually lacks adequate blood supply, causing cellular damage.

Common Causes: lip pressure ulcers develop from chronic pressure applied to the lips, perhaps from a medical device like a breathing tube during intubation, or from habits like constant lip biting. Poor hydration and lack of proper lip care can also contribute to related pressure ulcers and lip ulcers.

Medical Ramifications: Left untreated, lip pressure ulcers can lead to infection and more serious complications, affecting overall oral health and potentially leading to systemic issues.


  • Treatment typically involves relieving the source of pressure, implementing proper lip care, and possibly medication to treat infection and facilitate healing.
  • Consultation with a healthcare provider is essential for diagnosis and a treatment plan.
  • Upper lip pressure ulcers might require specialized attention due to their visibility and potential impact on facial expressions and speech. In such cases, consultation with a healthcare provider is imperative for tailored diagnosis and treatment strategies.

Understanding and addressing lip pressure ulcers are crucial in maintaining oral health, particularly for those at higher risk due to medical conditions or treatment interventions.


Hospital-acquired pressure ulcers

  • Hospital-acquired pressure ulcers related to lip injury during intubation are an unfortunate yet preventable complication that medical professionals need to be vigilant about. Several key points should be noted:

    1. Prevalence: Hospital-acquired pressure ulcers on the lips are not as common as other forms but can occur during prolonged intubation procedures.
    2. Risk Factors: Contributing factors include the material and size of the endotracheal tube, the tightness of the securing adhesive tape, and the duration of intubation.
    3. Prevention: Regular assessment of the lips and surrounding areas for signs of pressure or irritation can act as a preventative measure.
    4. Treatment: Immediate treatment usually involves releasing the pressure by repositioning the tube and possibly applying topical ointments to stimulate healing.
    5. Best Practices: Medical teams are advised to adhere to established guidelines for securing intubation devices to minimize the risk of such ulcers.
    6. Patient Monitoring: Continuous monitoring is essential for patients who are intubated for extended periods, as they are at higher risk.
    7. Education and Training: Proper training on how to safely secure endotracheal tubes can significantly reduce the occurrence of these pressure ulcers.

    By understanding these key aspects, healthcare providers can take actionable steps to mitigate the risks associated with hospital-acquired lip pressure ulcers due to intubation.


In conclusion, a lip injury during intubation is a concern that medical professionals should not overlook. While the primary focus is often on ensuring a patient’s airway, the potential for causing lip injuries during the process necessitates equal attention. These injuries can cause immediate discomfort and may lead to complications that affect a patient’s overall recovery.

Therefore, understanding the mechanisms and preventive measures associated with lip injuries during intubation is crucial for healthcare providers. The topic deserves ongoing research and discussion to improve patient care protocols.


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