The normal and the challenging pediatric airway

Paediatr Anaesth. 2012 Jun;22(6):521-6. doi: 10.1111/j.1460-9592.2012.03858.x.


Management of a child's airway is one of the main sources of stress for anesthetists who do not routinely anesthetize children. Unfortunately, trainees are gaining less experience in pediatric airway management than in the past, which is particularly difficult at a time when some beliefs about airway management are being challenged and airway management is less standardized. Fortunately, most children have an easily managed, normal airway. Nevertheless, it is of vital importance to teach our trainees the basic airway skills that are probably the most important skill in an anesthetists' repertoire when it comes to a difficult airway situation. This review focuses on the airway management in children with a normal and a challenging airway. Different choices of airway management in children, and their advantages and disadvantages are discussed. Furthermore, the three broad causes of a challenging airway in children and infants are highlighted - the difficulty obtaining a mask seal, difficulty visualizing the vocal cords, and the third cause in which the larynx can be visualized but the difficulty lies at or beyond that level. Guidelines are given how to deal with these patients as well as with the feared but rare scenario of 'cannot ventilate, cannot intubate' in children.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Airway Management / methods*
  • Airway Obstruction / therapy
  • Anesthesia
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Intubation, Intratracheal
  • Laryngeal Masks
  • Laryngoscopy / methods
  • Respiration, Artificial
  • Respiratory System Abnormalities / physiopathology*
  • Respiratory System Abnormalities / therapy
  • Vocal Cords / anatomy & histology