Current Concepts

Blunt Injuries of the Cervical Trachea: Review of 51 Patients



ABSTRACT: The low incidence of blunt trauma to the cervical portion of the trachea limits management experience in most centers. Hence, we combined our patients with those in published reports containing essential information on injury, treatment, and results. Among 51 patients (93% male), ages ranged from 3 to 65 years. There were 32 complete transections, 15 partial transections, and four tears. There were associated injuries of the recurrent laryngeal nerve (49%), esophagus (21%), larynx (14%), and cervical spine (9%). Presenting signs and symptoms included subcutaneous emphysema in 84%, respiratory distress in 76%, hoarseness/dysphonia in 46%, and hemoptysis in 21%. Tracheostomy was the best means of airway control; 13 of 17 (76%) attempted oral/nasotracheal intubations failed, necessitating emergency tracheostomy. Five patients with no respiratory distress and minimal tissue injury were successfully managed without tracheal repair. Ten patients had tracheal repair without tracheostomy. The only poor result occurred in a patient with a treatment delay of several days. Tracheal repair with tracheostomy was used in 27 patients, with good results in 19. Two patients died of other injuries, and six patients (four with delayed repair) required subsequent tracheal reconstruction. Repair over a stent was used in seven patients, four of whom had satisfactory results. From this review we conclude that (1) the diagnosis of blunt trauma to the cervical trachea requires a high index of suspicion, since this injury can easily be overlooked; (2) tracheostomy (vs intubation or cricothyroidotomy) is the preferred means of airway control; (3) preoperative laryngoscopy/bronchoscopy should be done to assess vocal cord function, possible laryngeal damage, and level of tracheal injury; (4) good longterm results, measured by voice and airway quality, are best obtained by immediate repair of significant injuries.

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