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Am Rev Respir Dis. 1992 Sep;146(3):581-5.

Upper airway anesthesia induces airflow limitation in awake humans.

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Pulmonary Laboratory, Cliniques Universitaires Saint-Luc, Brussels, Belgium.


Upper airway receptors are thought to contribute to upper airway stability by reducing collapsing forces. Their activity can be abolished by topical anesthesia. We have measured in 16 healthy volunteers (mean +/- SD age, 23.7 +/- 1.6 yr) specific airway conductance (SGaw), maximal inspiratory (MIFR) and expiratory (MEFR) flow rates before and 15, 35, and 45 min after extensive upper airway anesthesia (UAA) with 10% lidocaine. Average values of MIFR decreased (p less than 0.01) 15 min after UAA, but they returned to or near to control values at 45 min: MIF25 (4.8 versus 6.0 L/s); MIF50 (5.1 versus 6.2 L/s); MIF75 (4.4 versus 5.3 L/s). Transient decreases in flow (V) rates, reaching zero flow in some subjects, were observed in 13 subjects during forced inspiratory vital capacity (FIVC) maneuvers and in seven subjects during forced expiratory vital capacity (FEVC) maneuvers. MEFR at 25, 50, and 75% FVC, SGaw, and FVC did not change after anesthesia. Simultaneous measurements of supraglottic pressure, V, and lung volume in 12 of the 16 subjects showed that the site of flow limitation was localized at the level of the glottis in all except one subject in whom there was both a glottic and a supraglottic obstruction. We conclude that extensive upper airway anesthesia induced a profound but transitory upper airway obstruction during FIVC and FEVC maneuvers. These findings are compatible with the concept of reflex regulation of upper airway caliber.

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