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. 2013 Aug;117(2):428-34.
doi: 10.1213/ANE.0b013e318292ee21. Epub 2013 Jun 6.

Endotracheal Tube Cuff Leaks: Causes, Consequences, and Management


Endotracheal Tube Cuff Leaks: Causes, Consequences, and Management

Mohammad El-Orbany et al. Anesth Analg. .


The consequences of endotracheal tube (ETT) cuff leak may range from a bubbling noise to a life-threatening ventilatory failure. Although the definitive solution is ETT replacement, this is often neither needed nor safe to perform. Frequently, the leak is not caused by a structural defect in the ETT. Cuff underinflation, cephalad migration of the ETT (partial tracheal extubation), misplaced orogastric or nasogastric tubes, wide discrepancy between ETT and tracheal diameters, or increased peak airway pressure can cause leaks around intact cuffs. Correction of these problems will stop the leak without ETT replacement. Alternatively, ETT cuff, pilot balloon, and inflation system damage due to inadvertent trauma or manufacturing defects may be responsible. Conservative management ideas (management without ETT replacement) were previously published to solve the problem. However, when a large structural defect is identified or conservative measures fail, ETT replacement becomes necessary. This can be performed with direct laryngoscopy if laryngeal visualization is adequate. A difficult exchange with possible airway loss should be anticipated, and prepared for, when there are signs and/or history of difficult intubation. A risk/benefit analysis of each individual situation is warranted before decisions are made on how best to proceed. Alternative back-up ventilation plans should be preformulated and the necessary equipment ready before the exchange. In this review, various management concerns and plans are discussed, and a simple algorithm to manage leaky ETT cuff situations is presented.

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