Background: Infants are prone to obstruction of the upper airway during general anesthesia. Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is often used to prevent or treat anesthesia-induced airway obstruction. The authors studied the interaction of propofol anesthesia and CPAP on airway caliber in infants using magnetic resonance imaging.
Methods: Nine infants undergoing elective magnetic resonance imaging of the brain were studied. Head position was standardized. Spin echo magnetic resonance images of the airway were acquired at the level of the soft palate, base of the tongue, and tip of the epiglottis. Four sets of images were acquired in sequence: (1) during light propofol anesthesia at an infusion rate of 80 microg . kg(-1) . min(-1), (2) after increasing the depth of propofol anesthesia by administering a bolus dose (2.0 mg/kg) and increasing the infusion rate to 240 microg . kg(-1) . min(-1), (3) during continued infusion of 240 microg . kg(-1). min propofol and application of 10 cm H2O CPAP, and (4) after removal of CPAP and continued infusion of 240 microg . kg(-1). min propofol.
Results: Increasing depth of propofol anesthesia decreased airway caliber at each anatomical level, predominantly due to anteroposterior narrowing. Application of CPAP completely reversed the propofol-induced decrease in airway caliber, primarily by increasing the transverse dimension.
Conclusions: Airway narrowing with increasing depth of propofol anesthesia results predominantly from a reduction in anteroposterior dimension, whereas CPAP acts primarily to increase the transverse dimension. Although airway caliber during deep propofol anesthesia and application of CPAP was similar to that during light propofol anesthesia, there were significant configurational differences.