Background: Tracheostomy is more hazardous in the pediatric population than in adults (Paediatr Nurs, 17, 2005, 38; Int J Pediatr Otorhinolaryngol, 67, 2003, 7; J R Soc Med, 89, 1996, 188). Airway management in these children and infants is potentially challenging. Previous case series of pediatric tracheostomy published in the surgical journals make little mention of anesthetic techniques used and do not describe airway management. The aim of this study was to review the anesthetic, and in particular the airway management of children undergoing tracheostomy at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH).
Methods: Between September 2004 and December 2007, the ENT surgical database showed that 109 children had a surgical tracheostomy performed at GOSH. We were only able to locate the notes of 100 of these cases. The anesthetic records of these 100 patients undergoing tracheostomy were analyzed retrospectively.
Results: Ninety-four percent (94/100) of tracheostomies were elective, and 6% (6/100) were emergency. In this study, 26% (26/100) of children were recorded as difficult to intubate. These difficult airways were managed as follows: 10/26 used a laryngeal mask airway (LMA), 5/26 were managed with facemask alone, 3/26 had fiber-optic intubation, 5/26 had surgical intubation and 2/26 were intubated with the aid of a bougie and cricoid pressure.
Conclusions: This case series demonstrates that intubation is difficult in up to 26% of children presenting for tracheostomy. While intubation of the trachea remains the preferred option when anesthetizing children for tracheostomy, the LMA or facemask can provide a successful airway where intubation is not possible. The use of the LMA or facemask may therefore be life saving in the unintubatable child.