Interfacility Transport of Children with Traumatic Pneumothorax: Does Elevation Make a Difference?

J Pediatr Surg. 2024 Feb;59(2):316-319. doi: 10.1016/j.jpedsurg.2023.10.022. Epub 2023 Oct 21.


Introduction: Traumatic pneumothorax (PTX) remains a source of significant morbidity and mortality in pediatric trauma patients. Management with tube thoracostomy is routinely dictated by symptoms, use of positive pressure ventilation, or plan for air transport. Many patients transferred to our pediatric trauma center (PTC) require transport at considerable elevation. We sought to characterize the effect of transport at elevation in this population to inform management recommendations.

Methods: The trauma registry was queried for pediatric patients transferred to our tertiary referral center with traumatic PTX from 2010 to 2022, yielding 412 charts for analysis. Data abstracted included mechanism of injury, mode of transport, size of pneumothorax, chest tube placement, endotracheal intubation, and estimated elevation change during transport.

Results: There were 412 patients included for analysis. Most patients had small pneumothoraces that resolved without chest tube placement (388 patients, 94.1%). No patients experienced acute respiratory decompensation in transport. There were four (0.9%) patients with increased PTX on arrival, however, none experienced acute decompensation as a result. Average elevation gain was 2337 feet. There was no association between elevation change and requirement of post-transport chest tube placement. No patients experienced PTX-related complications after discharge.

Conclusions: In this large patient series, no patient experienced a meaningful increase in the size of their traumatic PTX during or immediately following transport at elevation to our institution. These findings suggest it is safe to transfer a pediatric trauma patient with a small, hemodynamically insignificant PTX without tube thoracostomy despite considerable changes in elevation during transport.

Levels of evidence: II-III, Retrospective Study.

Keywords: Air medical transport; Elevation; Traumatic pneumothorax; Tube thoracostomy.

MeSH terms

  • Chest Tubes / adverse effects
  • Child
  • Humans
  • Pneumothorax* / etiology
  • Pneumothorax* / surgery
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Thoracic Injuries* / complications
  • Thoracostomy / adverse effects