Pneumomediastinum in COVID-19: a phenotype of severe COVID-19 pneumonitis? The results of the United Kingdom (POETIC) survey

Eur Respir J. 2022 May 12;2102522. doi: 10.1183/13993003.02522-2021. Online ahead of print.

Abstract

Background: There is an emerging understanding that coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is associated with increased incidence of pneumomediastinum. We aimed to determine its incidence among patients hospitalised with COVID-19 in the United Kingdom and describe factors associated with outcome.

Methods: A structured survey of pneumomediastinum and its incidence was conducted from September 2020 to February 2021. United Kingdom-wide participation was solicited via respiratory research networks. Identified patients had SARS-CoV-2 infection and radiologically proven pneumomediastinum. The primary outcomes were to determine incidence of pneumomediastinum in COVID-19 and to investigate risk factors associated with patient mortality.

Results: 377 cases of pneumomediastinum in COVID-19 were identified from 58 484 inpatients with COVID-19 at 53 hospitals during the study period, giving an incidence of 0.64%. Overall 120-day mortality in COVID-19 pneumomediastinum was 195/377 (51.7%). Pneumomediastinum in COVID-19 was associated with high rates of mechanical ventilation. 172/377 patients (45.6%) were mechanically ventilated at the point of diagnosis. Mechanical ventilation was the most important predictor of mortality in COVID-19 pneumomediastinum at the time of diagnosis and thereafter (p<0.001) along with increasing age (p<0.01) and diabetes mellitus (p=0.08). Switching patients from continuous positive airways pressure support to oxygen or high flow nasal oxygen after the diagnosis of pneumomediastinum was not associated with difference in mortality.

Conclusions: Pneumomediastinum appears to be a marker of severe COVID-19 pneumonitis. The majority of patients in whom pneumomediastinum was identified had not been mechanically ventilated at the point of diagnosis.