Emergency cricothyrotomy--a systematic review

Scand J Trauma Resusc Emerg Med. 2013 May 31:21:43. doi: 10.1186/1757-7241-21-43.


Background: An emergency cricothyrotomy is the last-resort in most airway management protocols and is performed when it is not possible to intubate or ventilate a patient. This situation can rapidly prove fatal, making it important to identify the best method to establish a secure airway. We conducted a systematic review to identify whether there exists superiority between available commercial kits versus traditional surgical and needle techniques.

Methods: Medline, EMBASE and other databases were searched for pertinent studies. The inclusion criteria included manikin, animal and human studies and there were no restrictions regarding the professional background of the person performing the procedure.

Results: In total, 1,405 unique references were identified; 108 full text articles were retrieved; and 24 studies were included in the review. Studies comparing kits with one another or with various surgical and needle techniques were identified. The outcome measures included in this systematic review were success rate and time consumption. The investigators performing the studies had chosen unique combinations of starting and stopping points for time measurements, making comparisons between studies difficult and leading to many conflicting results. No single method was shown to be better than the others, but the size of the studies makes it impossible to draw firm conclusions.

Conclusions: The large majority of the studies were too small to demonstrate statistically significant differences, and the limited available evidence was of low or very low quality. That none of the techniques in these studies demonstrated better results than the others does not necessarily indicate that each is equally good, and these conclusions will likely change as new evidence becomes available.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Airway Management / methods*
  • Animals
  • Cricoid Cartilage / surgery
  • Emergency Medical Services* / methods
  • Humans
  • Laryngeal Cartilages / surgery*
  • Manikins
  • Treatment Outcome