Background: Selective surgical exploration of penetrating neck wounds is now the standard of care, but the safety and cost effectiveness of selective diagnostic testing remains controversial. We herein review our 18-year prospective evaluation of a progressively selective approach.
Patients and methods: Since 1979, 312 patients sustained penetrating trauma to the anterior neck; 75% were stabbed and 24% were shot. Zone I was penetrated in 13%, zone II in 67%, and zone III in 20%.
Results: In all, 105 (34%) of the patients had early exploration (16% were nontherapeutic). Of the 207 (66%) observed, 1 (0.5%) required delayed exploration. Length of stay was 8.0 days following exploration, 5.1 days following negative exploration, and 1.5 days following observation. In the last 6 years, 40% have had adjunctive testing: 69% of zone I, 15% of zone II, and 50% of zone III injuries.
Conclusion: Selective management of penetrating neck injuries is safe and does not mandate routine diagnostic testing for asymptomatic patients with injuries in zones II and III.