Point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS) of the upper airway

Can J Anaesth. 2018 Apr;65(4):473-484. doi: 10.1007/s12630-018-1064-8. Epub 2018 Jan 18.


Airway management is a critical skill in the practice of several medical specialities including anesthesia, emergency medicine, and critical care. Over the years mounting evidence has showed an increasing role of ultrasound (US) in airway management. The objective of this narrative review is to provide an overview of the indications for point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS) of the upper airway. The use of US to guide and assist clinical airway management has potential benefits for both provider and patient. Ultrasound can be utilized to determine airway size and predict the appropriate diameter of single-lumen endotracheal tubes (ETTs), double-lumen ETTs, and tracheostomy tubes. Ultrasonography can differentiate tracheal, esophageal, and endobronchial intubation. Ultrasonography of the neck can accurately localize the cricothyroid membrane for emergency airway access and similarly identify tracheal rings for US-guided tracheostomy. In addition, US can identify vocal cord dysfunction and pathology before induction of anesthesia. A rapidly growing body of evidence showing ultrasonography used in conjunction with hands-on management of the airway may benefit patient care. Increasing awareness and use of POCUS for many indications have resulted in technologic advancements and increased accessibility and portability. Upper airway POCUS has the potential to become the first-line non-invasive adjunct assessment tool in airway management.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Airway Management / methods*
  • Humans
  • Larynx / diagnostic imaging*
  • Male
  • Pharynx / diagnostic imaging*
  • Point-of-Care Systems*
  • Trachea / diagnostic imaging*
  • Ultrasonography / instrumentation
  • Ultrasonography / methods*