The pressure in air-filled endotracheal cuffs increases steadily throughout general anesthesia with nitrous oxide (N2O). High cuff pressures can be responsible for local ischemia, which may induce tracheal mucosal injury. In this study, cuff pressure was monitored in anesthetized patients, and postanesthesia endotracheal lesions were assessed by endoscopy. Sixty-five patients undergoing general anesthesia with tracheal intubation >1 h in duration were randomized into two groups. The endotracheal tube cuff was inflated to 30-40 cm H2O with air in Group 1 (n = 33) and with a gas mixture (N2O 50% in oxygen) in Group 2 (n = 32). At the time of tracheal extubation, a fiberoptic examination via the endotracheal tube was performed by an independent observer. Aspects of trachea at the level of cuff contact area were scored as 0 = normal, 1 = mucosal erythema or edema, 2 = mucosal erosion or hemorrhage, 3 = mucosal erosion or hemorrhage on both anterior and posterior tracheal walls. Cuff pressure increased throughout the procedure (P<0.01) in Group 1 and remained stable in Group 2. In Group 1, tracheal lesions in the area of the cuff were more frequent than they were in Group 2 (79% vs. 37%; P<0.001). Tracheal injury was correlated to cuff pressure (r = 0.62, P<0.001). No postoperative respiratory complication was observed in any patient. In patients anesthetized with N2O, the inflation of the tracheal tube cuff with a gas mixture of the same composition as the inhaled mixture can prevent excessive cuff pressure and reduce the incidence of tracheal injury.
Implications: In patients anesthetized with nitrous oxide, the inflation of the tracheal tube cuff with a gas mixture of the same composition as the inhaled mixture can prevent excessive cuff pressure and reduce the incidence of tracheal injury.