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Anaesthesia. 2011 Sep;66(9):828-36. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2044.2011.06650.x. Epub 2011 Apr 12.

Equal and opposite expert opinion. Airway obstruction caused by a retrosternal thyroid mass: management and prospective international expert opinion.

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Department of Anaesthesia, Royal United Hospital, Bath, UK.


Anticipated problems with airway management during anaesthesia require careful planning, particularly when they involve a risk of airway obstruction. Advice may be sought from published literature (usually written by experts) or through direct communication with experts. More frequently, expert involvement is through retrospective review following patient harm. We present the case of a patient suffering from a retrosternal thyroid mass that was compressing her trachea in the midline and dividing it into two 2 × 3 mm lumens. After local discussion the patient underwent thyroidectomy. We invited international experts in anaesthetic airway management to review her case and submit their opinions regarding the best airway management for this difficult case. Opinions differed markedly, mirroring the published literature. Some experts specifically criticised techniques that, unbeknown to them, were proposed by others. The case raises issues about the nature of expert opinion that extends beyond this particular case. The nature and implications of expert opinion, when evidence is absent or conflicting, are discussed.

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