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Anesthesiology. 2001 Oct;95(4):836-41.

Randomized study comparing the "sniffing position" with simple head extension for laryngoscopic view in elective surgery patients.

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Department of Anesthesiology, H─Ápital Avicenne, University Paris 13, France.



The "sniffing position" is recommended for optimization of glottic visualization under direct laryngoscopy. However, no study to date has confirmed its superiority over simple head extension. In a prospective, randomized study, the authors compared the sniffing position with simple head extension in orotracheal intubation.


The study included 456 consecutive patients. The sniffing position was obtained by placement of a 7-cm cushion under the head of the patient. The extension position was obtained by simple head extension. The anesthetic procedure included two Laryngoscopies without paralysis: the first was used for topical glottic anesthesia. During the second direct laryngoscopy, intubation of the trachea was performed. The head position was randomized as follows: group A was in the sniffing position during the first Laryngoscopy and the extension position during the second, group B was in the extension position during the first laryngoscopy and the sniffing position during the second. Glottic exposure was assessed by the Cormack scale.


The sniffing position improved glottic exposure (decreased the Cormack grade) in 18% of patients and worsened it (increased the Cormack grade) in 11% of patients, in comparison with simple extension. The Cormack grade distribution was not significantly modified between the two groups. Multivariate analysis showed that reduced neck mobility and obesity were independently related to improvement in laryngoscopic view with application of the sniffing position.


Routine use of the sniffing position appears to provide no significant advantage over simple head extension for tracheal intubation in this setting. The sniffing position appears to be advantageous in obese and head extension-limited patients.

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