Ultrasonographic identification of the cricothyroid membrane: best evidence, techniques, and clinical impact

Br J Anaesth. 2016 Sep:117 Suppl 1:i39-i48. doi: 10.1093/bja/aew176. Epub 2016 Jul 17.


Inability to identify the cricothyroid membrane by inspection and palpation contributes substantially to the high failure rate of cricothyrotomy. This narrative review summarizes the current evidence for application of airway ultrasonography for identification of the cricothyroid membrane compared with the clinical techniques. We identified the best-documented techniques for bedside use, their success rates, and the necessary training for airway-ultrasound-naïve clinicians. After a short but structured training, the cricothyroid membrane can be identified using ultrasound in difficult patients by previously airway-ultrasound naïve anaesthetists with double the success rate of palpation. Based on the literature, we recommend identifying the cricothyroid membrane before induction of anaesthesia in all patients. Although inspection and palpation may suffice in most patients, the remaining patients will need ultrasonographic identification; a service that we should aim at making available in all locations where anaesthesia is undertaken and where patients with difficult airways could be encountered.

Keywords: airway, anatomy; airway, complications; airway, obstruction; airway, patency; cricothyrotomy; tracheostomy; ultrasonography.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Airway Management / methods*
  • Airway Management / standards
  • Anesthesiology / education
  • Clinical Competence
  • Cricoid Cartilage / diagnostic imaging*
  • Cricoid Cartilage / surgery
  • Education, Medical, Continuing / methods
  • Evidence-Based Medicine / methods
  • Humans
  • Palpation / methods
  • Patient Positioning / methods
  • Thyroid Cartilage / diagnostic imaging*
  • Thyroid Cartilage / surgery
  • Ultrasonography / methods