To review the literature to determine the rates of airway stenosis after cricothyrotomy, particularly as they compare with previously documented rates of this complication after tracheotomy, and to examine the complications associated with conversion.
We conducted a review of the medical literature by the use of PubMed and OVID MEDLINE databases.
We identified all published series that describe the use of cricothyrotomy, with the inclusion of the subset of patients who require an emergency airway after trauma, from January 1, 1978, to January 1, 2008.
Only 20 published series of cricothyrotomy were identified: 17 retrospective reports and 3 prospective, observational series.
Considerable variance in methods and follow-up periods were noted between examinations. Published experiences documented the results of 1134 total patients for whom cricothyrotomy was performed, including 368 trauma patients who underwent emergent cricothyrotomy. The rate of chronic subglottic stenosis among survivors after cricothyrotomy was 2.2% (11/511) overall and 1.1% (4/368) among trauma patients for follow-up periods with a range from 2 to 60 months. Only 1 (0.27%) of the 368 trauma patients in whom an emergent cricothyrotomy was performed required surgical treatment for chronic subglottic stenosis. Although the literature that documents complications of surgical airway conversion is scarce, rates of severe complications of up to 43% were reported.
Cricothyrotomy after trauma is safe for initial airway access among patients who require the establishment of an emergent airway. The prolonged use of a cricothyrotomy tube, however, remains controversial. Although no study to date has demonstrated any benefit of routine conversion to tracheostomy, considerable deficiencies in existing studies highlight the need for further investigations of this practice.