Optimizing emergent surgical cricothyrotomy for use in austere environments

Wilderness Environ Med. 2013 Mar;24(1):53-66. doi: 10.1016/j.wem.2012.07.003. Epub 2012 Oct 10.


Emergent cricothyrotomy is an infrequently performed procedure used in the direst of circumstances on the most severely injured patients. Austere environments present further unique challenges to effective emergency medical practice. Recently, military trauma registry data were searched for the frequency of cricothyrotomy use and success rates during a 22-month period. These data revealed that cricothyrotomy performed in the most rigorous austere environment (ie, battlefield) had many successes, but also a large number of failed (33%) attempts by medics owing to many factors. Thus, the aim of this review article is to present what is known about cricothyrotomy and apply this knowledge to any austere environment for qualified providers. The National Library of Medicine's PubMed was used to conduct a thorough search using the terms "prehospital," "cricothyroidotomy," "cricothyrotomy," and "surgical airway." The findings were further narrowed by applicability to the austere environment. This review presents relevant airway anatomy, incidences, indications, contraindications, procedures, and equipment, including improvised devices, success rates, complications, and training methods. Recommendations are proffered for ways to optimize procedures, equipment, and training for successful application of this emergent skill set in the austere environment.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Airway Obstruction / surgery*
  • Cricoid Cartilage / surgery*
  • Emergency Medical Services / methods*
  • Emergency Treatment
  • Environmental Medicine / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Treatment Outcome