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Postgraduate Education Corner: CONTEMPORARY REVIEWS IN CRITICAL CARE MEDICINE |

Airway Management in Critical Illness*

J. Matthias Walz, MD, FCCP; Maksim Zayaruzny, MD; Stephen O. Heard, MD, FCCP
Author and Funding Information

*From the Department of Anesthesiology, Division of Critical Care Medicine UMass Memorial Medical Center, Worcester, MA.

Correspondence to: J. Matthias Walz, MD, FCCP, Department of Anesthesiology, UMass Memorial Medical Center, 55 Lake Ave North, Worcester MA 01655; e-mail: mwalz1@msn.com



Chest. 2007;131(2):608-620. doi:10.1378/chest.06-2120
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Airway management in the ICU can be complicated due to many factors including the limited physiologic reserve of the patient. As a consequence, the likelihood of difficult mask ventilation and intubation increases. The incidence of failed airways and of cardiac arrest related to airway instrumentation in the ICU is much higher than that of elective intubations performed in the operating room. A thorough working knowledge of the devices available for the management of the difficult airway and recommended rescue strategies is paramount in avoiding bad patient outcomes. In this review, we will provide a conceptual framework for airway assessment, with an emphasis on assessment of the patient with limited cervical spine movement or injury and of morbidly obese patients. Furthermore, we will review the devices that are available for airway management in the ICU, and discuss controversies surrounding interventions like cricoid pressure and the use of muscle relaxants in the critically ill patient. Finally, strategies for the safe extubation of patients with known difficult airways will be provided.

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