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Can J Anaesth. 1999 Aug;46(8):772-5.

Pott's disease with unstable cervical spine, retropharyngeal cold abscess and progressive airway obstruction.

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Department of Anaesthesia, University Health Network, Toronto Western Hospital, University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada.



Retropharyngeal abscess formation has the potential for acute respiratory compromise from obstruction or secondarily from rupture. The initial attempt to secure the airway is of paramount importance. We describe a patient with an unstable cervical spine secondary to Pott's disease who developed progressively obstructing retropharyngeal cold abscess.


A 33-yr-old man with an unstable C-spine in halo traction presented with progressive airway obstruction secondary to retropharyngeal abscess extending from the cervical to the mid-thoracic vertebrae. After review of computerized tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance (MR) studies, preparations were made to secure the airway through fibreoptic assisted intubation. A conservative approach was chosen to secure the airway before surgical airway control as a first line approach. Following local and topical anesthesia, awake endoscopy was performed to assess the extent of obstruction and possibility of intubation without abscess rupture. A narrow tract along the lateral pharynx was identified to continue inferiorly to the epiglottis, from which point the cords were visualized. Extensive edema and abscess formation otherwise distorted the normal anatomy and prevented visualization from other directions. The airway was successfully secured without trauma with a well-lubricated 7.0 mm ID endotracheal tube.


This report suggests that selected cases of tense obstructing retropharyngeal abscesses can be effectively managed with fibreoptic endoscopy for assessment and subsequent intubation before requiring surgical airway control as a first line strategy.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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