Tracheal intubation is a medical procedure where the physician inserts a curved, hollow plastic tube down the patient's throat, past the vocal chords and into the top of the bronchial tubes. This allows air to bypass the throat and larynx and access the bronchial tubes directly. Although it is very invasive and risks vomiting resulting in aspiration (as the gag reflex will tend to be activated when something is put in the throat), it is less invasive than a tracheotomy. Intubation is common during surgery in order to ensure a clear flow of air during anesthesia. During this procedure sedatives and paralytics will be administered subduing the gag reflex.
Rarely, intubation will result in paralysis to the larynx (and House treated a patient with this condition in the episode Control) The physician must also be careful not to place the tube into the esophagus rather than the trachea.
In emergency situations, intubation is useful for patients who only have a swollen or damaged throat preventing adequate airflow into the lungs. If the airways are constricted by anaphylactic shock, asthma, or any other condition which causes swelling in the lungs, intubation will allow a higher pressure and concentration of oxygen to be delivered more effectively. An endotracheal tube can also be used to deliver medicine directly to the lungs.