[The difficult airway]

P Krafft, M Frass
Wiener Klinische Wochenschrift 2000 March 24, 112 (6): 260-70
Management of the difficult airway has gained increasing interest, because hypoxia is one of the leading causes of death and of severe neurological sequelae related to anesthesia or resuscitation. The difficult airway algorithm of the American Society of Anesthesiologists as well as the guidelines of the European Resuscitation Council provide recommendations for the prevention of difficulties in tracheal intubation and/or mask ventilation. Especially preoperative patient evaluation is of major importance. Patients history, oral and maxillofacial anatomy, pharyngeal and laryngeal structures as well as cervical spine mobility have to be assessed and awake fiberoptic intubation has to be performed in all cooperative patients with indices pointing towards difficult airways. If problems in intubating the trachea are encountered after induction of anesthesia and mask ventilation is adequate, one must call for help and decide rapidly whether to awaken the patient or to proceed with alternative intubation techniques (e.g. different laryngoscope blades, flexible fiberoptic scope or other fiberoptic techniques, lighted wand, retrograde intubation or surgical airway). In the potentially life-threatening "cannot intubate--cannot ventilate" situation either transtracheal jet ventilation, laryngeal mask airway, the esophageal-tracheal Combitube or a surgical airway have to be performed or have to be inserted immediately. These alternative methods have to be appropriately taught and--as far as possible--to be trained under routine conditions in order to master emergency situations.

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