Cricothyrotomy in the emergency department

Ann Emerg Med. 1982 Jul;11(7):361-4. doi: 10.1016/s0196-0644(82)80362-4.


Thirty-eight emergency cricothyrotomies were performed over a 3-year period. This was the first airway control maneuver attempted in 5 patients, 3 of whom had facial and/or neck injury, one apneic with upper airway hemorrhage, and one with aortobronchial fistula. The remaining 33 procedures were performed only after other airway management failed. Five indications were identified among these cases: 1) excessive emesis or hemorrhage (11), 2) possible cervical spine injury with airway compromise (9), 3) technical failure (7), 4) clenched teeth (5), and 5) masseter spasm following succinylcholine administration (1). Fourteen immediate complications occurred in 12 patients (32%). The most frequent was incorrect site of tracheostomy tube placement (5), with 4 of 5 misplaced through the thyrohyoid membrane. Others included execution time greater than 3 minutes (4), unsuccessful tracheostomy tube placement (3), and significant hemorrhage (2). Twelve of the 38 patients were long-term survivors. There was one long-term complication, a longitudinal fracture of the thyroid cartilage during forceful placement of an oversized tube (8 mm inner diameter) through the cricothyroid membrane. This required operative repair and left the patient with severe dysphonia.

MeSH terms

  • Airway Obstruction / therapy
  • Critical Care / methods*
  • Critical Care / standards
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / standards
  • Humans
  • Larynx / surgery*
  • Minnesota
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Tracheotomy / adverse effects
  • Tracheotomy / methods*