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Anaesthesia. 2010 Sep;65(9):946-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2044.2010.06407.x.

The unrecognised difficult extubation: a call for vigilance.

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  • 1Department of Anesthesia and Perioperative Care, University of California San Francisco, San Francisco, CA, USA.


Tracheal extubation remains a critical and often overlooked period of difficult airway management. A 66-year-old man, scheduled for C5-C7 anterior fusion, with an easy view of the vocal cords, presented with a sublaryngeal obstruction that required a reduced tracheal tube size. Despite correct tube placement, intra-operative ventilation remained difficult. At the end of surgery a pulsatile tracheal compression was fibreopticially observed above the carina. After discussion with the attending otolaryngologist, neuromuscular blockade was antagonised and the patient was able to maintain normal minute volumes while spontaneously ventilating. With the otolaryngologist present, and with the patient conscious, the trachea was successfully extubated over an airway exchange catheter. A subsequent CT scan revealed an impingement of the trachea by the innominate artery and a mildly ectatic ascending and descending aorta that, in conjunction with tracheomalacia and neuromuscular blockade, could explain the observed signs and symptoms.

© 2010 The Authors. Journal compilation © 2010 The Association of Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland.

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