Alternative intubation techniques vs Macintosh laryngoscopy in patients with cervical spine immobilization: systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials

Br J Anaesth. 2016 Jan;116(1):27-36. doi: 10.1093/bja/aev205. Epub 2015 Jun 30.


Background: Immobilization of the cervical spine worsens tracheal intubation conditions. Various intubation devices have been tested in this setting. Their relative usefulness remains unclear.

Methods: We searched MEDLINE, EMBASE, and the Cochrane Library for randomized controlled trials comparing any intubation device with the Macintosh laryngoscope in human subjects with cervical spine immobilization. The primary outcome was the risk of tracheal intubation failure at the first attempt. Secondary outcomes were quality of glottis visualization, time until successful intubation, and risk of oropharyngeal complications.

Results: Twenty-four trials (1866 patients) met inclusion criteria. With alternative intubation devices, the risk of intubation failure was lower compared with Macintosh laryngoscopy [risk ratio (RR) 0.53; 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.35-0.80]. Meta-analyses could be performed for five intubation devices (Airtraq, Airwayscope, C-Mac, Glidescope, and McGrath). The Airtraq was associated with a statistically significant reduction of the risk of intubation failure at the first attempt (RR 0.14; 95% CI 0.06-0.33), a higher rate of Cormack-Lehane grade 1 (RR 2.98; 95% CI 1.94-4.56), a reduction of time until successful intubation (weighted mean difference -10.1 s; 95% CI -3.2 to -17.0), and a reduction of oropharyngeal complications (RR 0.24; 95% CI 0.06-0.93). Other devices were associated with improved glottis visualization but no statistically significant differences in intubation failure or time to intubation compared with conventional laryngoscopy.

Conclusions: In situations where the spine is immobilized, the Airtraq device reduces the risk of intubation failure. There is a lack of evidence for the usefulness of other intubation devices.

Keywords: airway; complications, spinal injury; intubation, tracheal tube; trauma.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Cervical Vertebrae*
  • Equipment Design
  • Humans
  • Immobilization*
  • Intubation, Intratracheal / instrumentation*
  • Intubation, Intratracheal / methods*
  • Laryngoscopes
  • Laryngoscopy / instrumentation*
  • Laryngoscopy / methods
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic