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Injury. 2007 Jan;38(1):27-33. Epub 2006 Oct 31.

A review of traumatic airway injuries: potential implications for airway assessment and management.

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Obtaining a patent airway can be difficult in patients with traumatic airway injuries (TAI). There is a paucity of data available about the incidence of airway compromise and techniques used in these patients.


Charts review of all patients with TAI treated in a Regional Trauma Center from July 1989 to June 2005.


One hundred and four patients were identified as TAI in the study period (incidence of 0.4% for blunt and 4.5% for penetrating trauma). Sixty-eighty patients were victims of penetrating trauma (ISS: 24+/-10; mortality: 16%). Thirty-six patients were blunt trauma victims (ISS: 33+/-16; mortality: 36%). Overall, 65% of the patients received a definitive airway (DA) in the pre-hospital setting or at the initial hospital assessment. Alternative techniques for obtaining DA including wound tracheal tube, surgical airway and intubation under fiberoptic bronchoscopy were used in 30% of the patients. Among 24 deaths, 10 were considered primarily due to the airway injury. Twelve patients presented with thoracic TAI with nine deaths in this subgroup.


Overall, the incidence of TAI is low. Blunt trauma TAI is less common, and these patients have a different clinical presentation, higher ISS and mortality than the penetrating TAI group. Early assessment of airways is crucial and DA was required in 2/3 of the patients with TAI. Lower airway injuries have higher mortality than upper airway injuries. Even though most patients died as a result of other injuries, causative factors of death included difficulty in obtaining DA and ventilation/oxygenation problems.

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