Prehospital airway management in the acutely injured patient: the role of surgical cricothyrotomy revisited

J Trauma. 1998 Aug;45(2):312-4. doi: 10.1097/00005373-199808000-00017.


Background: Ensuring an unobstructed airway and adequate oxygenation are first priorities in the resuscitation of the trauma patient. In situations of difficult endotracheal intubation, rapid sequence protocols frequently include the use of paralytic agents and cricothyrotomy for airway management. Recent literature findings suggest that the prehospital use of cricothyrotomy is too frequent. The purpose of this study was (a) to evaluate the efficacy of a rapid sequence intubation protocol without the use of paralytic agents, and (b) to determine the need for cricothyrotomy by using this protocol in the field.

Methods: We prospectively analyzed 383 acutely injured patients who were in need of airway control. Success rates, indications, and complications of endotracheal intubation and cricothyrotomy were analyzed.

Results: Successful orotracheal intubation on the scene with the use of this protocol was performed in 373 of 383 patients (97%). Two patients (0.5%) arrived at the trauma center with unrecognized esophageal intubation. Eight patients underwent cricothyrotomy in the field, six without previous attempts at intubation.

Conclusion: Experienced emergency medical services personnel can effectively perform endotracheal intubation with narcotic analgesics without the use of paralytic agents in the field. With proper training for field airway management, cricothyrotomy in the field can be reduced to a few indications with high success rates.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Air Ambulances
  • Aircraft
  • Airway Obstruction / etiology*
  • Airway Obstruction / surgery*
  • Cricoid Cartilage / surgery*
  • Emergency Medical Services / methods*
  • Emergency Treatment / adverse effects
  • Emergency Treatment / methods*
  • Female
  • Germany
  • Humans
  • Intubation, Intratracheal / adverse effects
  • Intubation, Intratracheal / methods*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multiple Trauma / complications*
  • Patient Selection
  • Prospective Studies
  • Treatment Outcome