Journal of Emergencies, Trauma, and Shock
Home About us Editors Ahead of Print Current Issue Archives Search Instructions Subscribe Advertise Login 
Users online:2571   Print this pageEmail this pageSmall font sizeDefault font sizeIncrease font size   

Year : 2009  |  Volume : 2  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 54-55
Emergency battlefield cricothyrotomy complicated by tube occlusion

1 Transitional Intern, William Beaumont Army Medical Center, 5005 N. Piedras St El Paso, TX 79920, USA
2 Department of Clinical Investigations, William Beaumont Army Medical Center, 5005 N. Piedras St El Paso, TX 79920, USA

Click here for correspondence address and email

Date of Submission22-Aug-2008
Date of Acceptance01-Sep-2008


Emergency cricothyrotomy is a technique used to secure an otherwise compromised or inaccessible airway and has been recommended for use in the battlefield under certain circumstances. This case reports an acute complication of emergency cricothyrotomy. An Iraqi soldier, injured in an improvised explosive device blast received an emergency battlefield cricothyrotomy. At the Combat Support Hospital, the patient became more difficult to ventilate and was taken to the operating room for tracheostomy. The cricothyrotomy tube was found to be occluded with blood.

Keywords: Cricothyrotomy, battlefield, airway, occlusion, complications

How to cite this article:
Gallo AC, Adams BD. Emergency battlefield cricothyrotomy complicated by tube occlusion. J Emerg Trauma Shock 2009;2:54-5

How to cite this URL:
Gallo AC, Adams BD. Emergency battlefield cricothyrotomy complicated by tube occlusion. J Emerg Trauma Shock [serial online] 2009 [cited 2022 Sep 28];2:54-5. Available from:

It is widely accepted that ensuring adequate oxygenation is one of the primary objectives in the management of a trauma patient. Therefore, airway control is the top priority in current algorithms for trauma life support. Although many ways of securing an airway are available and will not be discussed, [1] in certain cases an emergency cricothyrotomy is an important procedure used to secure an otherwise compromised or inaccessible airway. It has been commonly used both in the hospital [2] and by pre-hospital personnel [3],[4] with success.

Emergency cricothyrotomy is generally recommended in cases where providers are unable to intubate the trachea with an endotracheal or nasotracheal tube [5] such as severe oropharyngeal hemorrhage, edema of the glottis, fracture of the larynx, [1] and in some patients with C-spine trauma. [6] In a battlefield environment, it has been recommended that emergency cricothrotomy be considered early because battlefield medics may not be able to intubate trauma patients successfully. [7]

Reported short-term complications of emergency cricothyrotomy include misplacement of the airway, subsequent need for chest tube, bleeding, [2] laryngeal fracture, [8] incision error, [9] and thyroid cartilage injury. [10] We encountered a case which illustrates an additional complication that has not been reported in the literature to our knowledge. A young, male Iraqi soldier was injured in an improvised explosive device blast, sustaining multiple blast and shrapnel wounds to his right leg, torso, and face. He lost consciousness and was initially cared for by a US Forward Surgical Team (FST) consisting of a general surgeon, a combat medic, and a nurse anesthetist (CRNA). As part of the primary survey, it was determined that the patient needed an urgent, definitive airway, and a CRNA attempted to intubate the patient with an endotracheal tube by direct laryngoscopy. The endotracheal tube was passed and the team attempted to ventilate the patient's lungs. However, an endotracheal position could not be confirmed by physical examination or color change on the end-tidal CO 2 indicator. A general surgeon performed an emergency cricothyrotomy and a 6-0 standard ETT was placed and secured with the balloon inflated. The FST further stabilized the patient and transported him to a nearby Combat Support Hospital for more definitive care. Upon arrival to the Combat Support Hospital, the cricothyrotomy tube appeared to be providing adequate ventilation as indicated by auscultation of bilateral breath sounds and the presence of end-tidal CO 2 by color change. However, during the continued management of this patient's injuries he became progressively difficult to ventilate. His oxygen saturation dropped from 96% to less than 90%, and subsequently the patient went to the operating room for a tracheostomy and a right below knee amputation. When the 6-0 ETT was removed, it was found to be occluded with blood [Figure 1],[Figure 2]. A formal tracheostomy was performed and provided adequate ventilation for the remainder of the patient's course. The patient survived his injuries and left the hospital nine days later in satisfactory condition.

Emergency battlefield cricothyrotomies are an important procedure in the care of a trauma patient. Although acute complications are possible, to our knowledge acute tube occlusion has not been reported in the literature. Clinicians should be aware of this possible complication and should be ready for emergent replacement over a Bougie or a formal tracheostomy. It is important to note that a 6-0 ETT was used in the cricothyrotomy and may have been too small for the patient. [6] Further study to determine the rate of occlusion between comparably sized standard ETT and Shiley tubes in bloody field would be worthwhile.

   References Top

1.American College of Surgeons. Advanced trauma life support. 7th ed. Chicago (IL): American College of Surgeons; 2004.  Back to cited text no. 1    
2.Isaacs JH Jr, Pedersen AD. Emergency cricothyrotomy. Am Surg 1997;63:346-9.  Back to cited text no. 2  [PUBMED]  
3.Gerich TG, Schmidt U, Hubrich V, Lobenhoffer HP, Tscherne H. Prehospital airway management in the acutely injured patient: The role of surgical cricothyrotomy revisited. J Trauma 1998;45:312-4  Back to cited text no. 3  [PUBMED]  [FULLTEXT]
4.Fortune JB, Judkins DG, Scanzaroli D, McLeod KB, Johnson SB. Efficacy of prehospital surgical cricothyrotomy in trauma patients. J Trauma 1997;42:832-8.  Back to cited text no. 4  [PUBMED]  [FULLTEXT]
5.Macdonald JC, Tien HC. Emergency battlefield cricothyrotomy. Can Med Assoc J 2008;178:1133-5.  Back to cited text no. 5    
6.Simon RR, Brenner BE. Airway procedures. In: Simon RR, Brenner BE, editors. Emergency procedures and techniques. 3rd ed. Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins; 1994. p. 71-5.  Back to cited text no. 6    
7.Butler FK, Hagmann J, Butler EG. Tactical combat casualty care in special operations. Mil Med 1996;161:3-16.  Back to cited text no. 7    
8.Spaite DW, Joseph M. Prehospital cricothyrotomy: An investigation of indications, technique, complications, and patient outcome. Ann Emerg Med 1990;19:279-85.  Back to cited text no. 8  [PUBMED]  
9.Bair AE, Panacek EA, Wisner DH, Bales R, Sakles JC. Cricothyrotomy: A 5-year experience at one institution. J Emer Med 2003;24:151-6.  Back to cited text no. 9    
10.Hawkins ML, Shapiro MB, Cue JI, Wiggins SS. Emergency cricothyrotomy: A reassessment. Am Surg 1995;61:52-5.  Back to cited text no. 10    

Correspondence Address:
Andrew C Gallo
Transitional Intern, William Beaumont Army Medical Center, 5005 N. Piedras St El Paso, TX 79920
Login to access the Email id

Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0974-2700.44686

Rights and Permissions


  [Figure 1], [Figure 2]

This article has been cited by
1 Optimizing Emergent Surgical Cricothyrotomy for use in Austere Environments
M. Josephine Hessert,Brad L. Bennett
Wilderness & Environmental Medicine. 2013; 24(1): 53
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
2 Incidence of Fatal Airway Obstruction in Police Officers Feloniously Killed in the Line of Duty: A 10-Year Retrospective Analysis
Laura A. Fisher,David W. Callaway,Matthew D. Sztajnkrycer
Prehospital and Disaster Medicine. 2013; 28(05): 466
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
3 Percutaneous tracheostomy
Scott B. Davidson,Paul A. Blostein,Jon Walsh,Sheldon B. Maltz,Sheri L. VandenBerg
Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery. 2012; 73: S83
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
4 La cricothyrotomie : données actuelles et intérêt de cette technique en médecine de guerre
A. Donat, F. Petitjeans, P. Précloux, M. Puidupin, J. Escarment
Annales Françaises d Anesthésie et de Réanimation. 2011;
[VIEW] | [DOI]


    Similar in PUBMED
   Search Pubmed for
   Search in Google Scholar for
 Related articles
    Email Alert *
    Add to My List *
* Registration required (free)  

    Article Figures

 Article Access Statistics
    PDF Downloaded169    
    Comments [Add]    
    Cited by others 4    

Recommend this journal