An air enema is a type of treatment in which air is injected into the colon and rectum. Doctors mainly perform this type of enema in order to diagnose problems with the digestive tract. In home enema use, the treatment may be done by those looking to relief pressure in the colon caused by constipation.
When an air enema is done as a medical procedure, it is usually performed on children suffering from a condition known as intussusception. The medical disorder is a potentially life-threatening condition where a portion of the intestine prolapses, or pushes out, into the adjacent area. Intestinal obstruction, fever, inflammation, and shock can occur with intussusception. If this condition is suspected, an air enema can be used to take an X-ray of the colon so any problems can be seen.
An air enema can be performed on its own; however, in a medical setting, an air contrast barium enema may be performed instead. Barium is a white milky fluid that is used as a contrasting agent. A lubricated enema tube is placed in the rectum to push the barium mixture into the colon and rectum. The mixture coats the organs, allowing the contours of the colon to be more clearly viewed under an X-ray. Air is then introduced, creating a dark background that allows for a cleaner image of the colon's outline.
The patient will be moved into different positions to help spread the liquid throughout the colon. Once the condition is confirmed, additional air can be pushed into the rectum, forcing the prolapsed intestine back into its proper position. After the exam, patients may go to the bathroom to remove the barium solution. A double air contrast study may then be done. Using additional X-rays, the procedure inserts a small amount of air back into the rectum to take images of the empty colon.
Usually, an intussusception can be relived by an air enema. If bowel perforation has already occurred, however, surgery is the only available treatment. In adults, a medical enema may also be used to check for abnormalities, such as polyps that may indicate colorectal cancer.
When enemas are performed at home, a shower enema is considered the easiest type to do and least likely to cause additional complications by frequent enema users. Some individuals however, do perform air enemas as a form of colon cleansing. The procedure can be completed by removing the hose from an enema bag. Users then place one end of the hose into the rectum and the other end into the mouth and blow to cause the rectum to fill up with air. A pump style syringe or enema bulb can also be used to push air instead of water into the colon.
Whether done at home or in a medical setting, an air enema can cause cramping and bloating. Though rare, the procedure can also cause a perforated colon. The concern among health care professionals is the lack of evidence backing up the use of air enemas outside of a medical setting. To make certain the procedure is safe and necessary, individuals may want to seek the advice of a doctor before carrying out an air enema at home.