Emergency airway puncture

Definition

Emergency airway puncture is the placement of a hollow needle into the airway in the throat. It is done to treat life-threatening choking.

Alternative Names

Needle cricothyrotomy

Description

Emergency airway puncture is done in an emergency situation, when someone is choking and all other efforts to assist with breathing have failed.

  • A hollow needle or tube can be inserted into the throat, just below the Adam's apple (thyroid cartilage), into the airway. The needle passes between the thyroid cartilage and the cricoid cartilage.
  • In a hospital, before inserting the needle, a small cut may be made in the skin and the membrane between the thyroid and cricoid cartilages.

Why the Procedure Is Performed

A cricothyrotomy is an emergency procedure to relieve an airway obstruction until surgery can be done to place a breathing tube (tracheostomy).

If the airway blockage occurs with trauma to the head, neck, or spine, care must be taken to avoid further injury to the person.

Risks

Risks for this procedure include:

  • Injury to the voice box (larynx), thyroid gland, or esophagus

Risks for any surgery are:

  • Bleeding
  • Infection

Outlook (Prognosis)

How well the person does depends on the cause of the airway blockage and how quickly the person receives proper breathing support. Emergency airway puncture provides enough breathing support for only a very short period of time.

Images

Emergency airway puncture
Cricoid cartilage
Emergency airway puncture - series

References

Cattano D, Piacentini AGG, Cavallone LF. Percutaneous emergency airway access. In: Hagberg CA, Artime CA, Aziz MF, eds. Hagberg and Benumof's Airway Management. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 27.

Herbert RB, Thomas D. Cricothyrotomy and percutaneous translaryngeal ventilation. In: Roberts JR, Custalow CB, Thomsen TW, eds. Roberts and Hedges' Clinical Procedures in Emergency Medicine and Acute Care. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 6.

Review Date: 
10/11/2018
Reviewed By: 
Jesse Borke, MD, FACEP, FAAEM, Attending Physician at FDR Medical Services/Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital, Buffalo, NY. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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