Friday, March 13, 2009


Nasotracheal intubation was first described by Magill in the 1920s and the basic technique has changed little over the years. Modifications have been described that increase the success rate and limit complications. The tube may be placed blindly or with the aid of a laryngoscope or bronchoscope. Blind nasotracheal intubation can be one of the more technically demanding airway approaches, with the outcome being heavily dependent on the skill and experience of the operator. The primary advantage of blind nasotracheal intubation is that it minimizes neck movement and does not require opening the mouth.

General Indications and Contraindications
Nasotracheal intubation is technically more difficult than oral intubation, but it has definite advantages. It is especially suitable for the patient with a short, thick neck or other anatomic characteristics that would make orotracheal intubation difficult. Patients with clenched teeth or suspected cervical spine injury can be intubated with minimal preparation. Cervical spine films, jaw spreading, or paralyzing agents as preliminaries to airway control are unnecessary.
Blind nasotracheal intubation is possible with the patient in the sitting position, a distinct advantage when intubating the patient with congestive heart failure who cannot tolerate lying flat. In fact, patients in respiratory distress are the easiest to intubate blindly because their air hunger results in increased abduction of the vocal cords, which facilitates tube entry into the trachea. The drug overdose patient with a decreased level of consciousness is a candidate for nasotracheal intubation. These patients are often intubated before gastric lavage and may be sufficiently awake to make orotracheal intubation difficult without paralyzing agents.
A nasotracheal tube has advantages that extend beyond the immediate difficulties of airway control. The patient cannot bite the tube or manipulate it with the tongue. Oral injuries may be cared for without interference by the tube. A nasotracheal tube is more easily stabilized and generally easier to care for than an orotracheal tube. It is better tolerated by the patient, permitting easier movement in bed, and produces less reflex salivation than do oral tubes.
Nasal intubation should be avoided in patients with severe nasal or midface trauma. In the presence of a basilar skull fracture, a nasotracheal tube may inadvertently enter the brain through a basilar skull fracture. [41] The technique should be avoided in patients in whom thrombolytic therapy is being considered. Nasal intubation is relatively contraindicated if the patient is taking anticoagulants or is known to have a coagulopathy.

Blind Placement
Blind nasotracheal intubation is the most common form of nasotracheal intubation in the emergency setting. Danzl and Thomas reported a success rate of 92% in a large series of emergency department patients.

Indications and Contraindications
Any patient requiring airway control who has spontaneous respirations is a candidate for blind nasotracheal intubation. Specific indications that favor this approach over others are (1) short, thick neck, (2) inability to open the mouth, (3) inability to move the neck, (4) gagging or resisting the use of the laryngoscope, and (5) oral injuries.
Apnea is the major contraindication to blind nasotracheal intubation. Attempts to place the tube without respirations as a guide are futile. Relative contraindications include basilar skull fracture and nasal injury. Furthermore, significant bleeding may occur if the patient is receiving anticoagulants or has a coagulopathy. Blind nasotracheal intubation should be avoided in patients with expanding neck hematomas. Patient combativeness, if not controlled with sedation, is also a contraindication.
Some would argue that the inability to open the mouth is a relative contraindication, because emesis may be induced that could not be cleared. The operator must exercise judgment in the individual case and be prepared to use neuromuscular blocking agents or to bypass the upper airway with a surgical technique if such a complication develops.

The patient is placed in the "sniffing" position with the proximal neck slightly flexed and the head extended on the neck. In preparation for intubation, the operator constricts the nasal mucosa of both nares, using either 0.25 to 1.0% phenylephrine drops, oxymetazoline (Afrin) spray, or 4% cocaine spray. Topical anesthesia of the nares, oropharynx, and hypopharynx with lidocaine spray (10%) is also indicated if time permits. If available, cocaine is ideal because it is both a vasoconstrictor and an anesthetic; caution is necessary in hypertensive patients. The most patent nostril is chosen. In the cooperative patient, this can be determined simply by occluding each nostril and asking the patient which one is easier to breathe through. The most patent nostril can also be identified by direct vision, or by gently inserting a gloved finger lubricated with viscous lidocaine, full length into the nostrils. If time is not an issue, an effective method to dilate the nasal cavity and administer the anesthetic is to pass a lidocaine gel-lubricated nasopharyngeal airway (nasal trumpet) into the selected nostril. This
airway is left in place for several minutes, and progressively larger trumpets are introduced.
After preparation of the nostril, a well-lubricated endotracheal tube with a 7.0 or 7.5 mm ID is inserted along the floor of the nasal cavity. The tube is not directed cephalad, as one might expect from the external nasal anatomy, but rather is directed straight back toward the occiput, corresponding with the nasal floor. Twisting the tube may help bypass soft tissue obstruction in the nasal cavity. It is sometimes recommended that the bevel of the tube be oriented toward the septum to avoid injury to the inferior turbinate. However, such an event is rare. At 6 to 7 cm, one usually feels a "give" as the tube passes the nasal choana and negotiates the abrupt 90° curve required to enter the nasopharynx. This is the most painful and traumatic part of the procedure and must be done gently. If resistance is encountered that persists despite continued gentle pressure and twisting of the tube, the passage of a suction catheter down the tube and into the oropharynx may allow for successful passage of the tube over the catheter. [44] If this fails, the other nostril should be tried. In an attempt to avoid this difficulty from the outset, a controllable-tip tracheal tube (Endotrol, Mallinckrodt Medical Inc, St Louis) may be used that allows the operator to increase the flexion of the tube and facilitates passage past this tight curve. One study found the Endotrol tube to enhance first attempt success with blind nasotracheal intubation.
As the tube is advanced through the oropharynx and hypopharynx and approaches the vocal cords, breath sounds from the tube become louder, and fogging of the tube may occur. At the point of maximal breath sounds, the tube is lying immediately in front of the laryngeal inlet. The tube is most easily advanced into the trachea during inspiration because that is when the vocal cords are maximally open. As the patient begins to breathe in, the tube is advanced in one smooth motion. If a gag reflex is present, the patient usually coughs and becomes stridulous during this maneuver, suggesting successful tracheal intubation. The absence of such a response should alert the operator to probable esophageal passage. If there is a delay in advancing the tube, oxygen can be added to the end of the tube to increase inspired oxygen. Once the tube is in the trachea, moaning and groaning should cease. If they continue, esophageal intubation is likely. Breath sounds coming from the tube and tube fogging are other signs of endotracheal placement. Reflex swallowing during blind nasotracheal intubation may direct the tube posteriorly toward the esophagus. If this occurs, the conscious patient should be directed to stick out the tongue to inhibit swallowing and prevent consequent movement of the larynx. Application of laryngeal pressure may also help avoid esophageal passage.
Following intubation, both lungs are auscultated while positive-pressure ventilation is applied. If only one lung is being ventilated, the tube is withdrawn until breath sounds are heard bilaterally. The optimum distance from the external nares to the tube tip is about 28 cm in males and 26 cm in females. After verification of tracheal placement, the cuff is inflated and the tube is secured.

Technical Difficulties
The nasotracheal tube may slide smoothly through the hypopharynx and into the trachea on the first pass. Unfortunately, this is not always the case; in the operating room, the first attempt was successful in <50% of cases. When the initial pass is unsuccessful, there are 4 potential locations of the tip of the tube: (1) anterior to the epiglottis in the vallecula, (2) on the arytenoid or vocal cord, (3) in the piriform sinuses, or (4) in the esophagus.
Observation and palpation of the soft tissues of the neck during attempted passage of the nasotracheal tube are helpful in determining the location of the misplaced tube. This is ideally done by the operator but may also be performed by an experienced attendant. Before reattempting placement, the tube is withdrawn slightly; it is not removed from the nose, because this will create additional trauma to the nasal soft tissues. The possibility of cervical spine injury must be kept in mind when considering corrective maneuvers. Any maneuver that moves the neck significantly should not be used if alternatives are available. Methods for achieving success when difficulties with tube placement are encountered include the following:

Anterior to the epiglottis.
Difficulty advancing the tube beyond 15 cm or palpation of the tube tip anteriorly at the level of the hyoid bone suggests an impasse anterior to the epiglottis in the vallecula. Withdrawing the tube 2 cm, decreasing the degree of neck extension, and readvancing the tube will frequently remedy this problem.

Arytenoid cartilage and vocal cord.
Contrary to the classic teaching, recent studies have demonstrated a propensity for a nasotracheal tube, when placed through the right nares, to lie posteriorly and to the right as it approaches the larynx. It is not surprising, then, that the most common obstacles to advancement of the nasotracheal tube are the right arytenoid and vocal cord. No data are available on the common obstacles encountered if the tube is placed in the left nares. If the tube appears to be hanging up on firm, cartilaginous tissue, withdraw the tube 2 cm, rotate it 90° counterclockwise, and readvance the tube. This maneuver orients the bevel of the tube posteriorly and frequently results in successful passage . Another technique is to pass a suction catheter down the tube; it often will pass through the larynx without difficulty and the tube can then be advanced over the catheter.

Piriform sinus.
Bulging of the neck lateral and superior to the larynx indicates tube location in a piriform sinus. The tube should be withdrawn 2 cm, rotated slightly away from the bulge, and readvanced. An alternate method is to tilt the patient's head toward the side of the misplacement and reattempt placement.

Esophageal placement.
Esophageal placement is indicated by a smooth passage of the tube with the loss of breath sounds. The larynx may be seen or felt to elevate as the tube passes under it. Assisted ventilation will usually produce gurgling sounds when the epigastrium is auscultated. The tube should be withdrawn until breath sounds are clearly heard, and passage should be reattempted while pressure is applied to the cricoid. Increased extension of the head on the neck during placement may help. If attempts continue to result in esophageal misplacement, the following maneuver may result in successful tracheal intubation: from the precise point at which breath sounds are lost, the endotracheal tube is withdrawn 1 cm. The cuff is inflated with 15 mm of air, resulting in an elevation of the tube off the posterior pharyngeal wall and angling it toward the larynx. The tube is then advanced 2 cm; continued breath sounds indicate probable intralaryngeal location. At this point, the cuff is deflated and the endotracheal tube is advanced into the trachea . This technique may be particularly useful in the patient with cervical spine injury, because it requires no manipulation of the head or neck. This maneuver, when used on the first pass in 20 patients in the operating room, was successful in 75% of cases. One should bear in mind, however, that these patients were paralyzed and thus did not experience the laryngospasm that may be encountered in a breathing patient. The use of topical anesthesia is recommended. Alternatively, if a controllable-tip endotracheal tube (Endotrol) is used, the tip can be flexed anteriorly to help avoid esophageal placement. Remember that the tip is very responsive to pulling on the ring. A common mistake is to exert too much force on the ring, resulting in the tube curling up short of the larynx, thus preventing tube advancement.

Laryngospasm is common when attempting nasotracheal intubation. It is usually transient. The tube is withdrawn slightly and the operator should wait for the patient's first gasp; advancement of the tube at this precise moment is frequently successful, as the vocal cords are widely abducted during forced inhalation. Laryngeal anesthesia should also be assessed, and if IV and nebulized lidocaine have already been administered without success, transcricothyroid anesthesia (e.g., 2 mL of 4% lidocaine) should be considered. Occasionally, a jaw lift is necessary to break prolonged spasm. Another option is to use a smaller tube.

Placement Under Direct Vision
This technique combines elements of oral and nasotracheal intubation. The indications and precautions are similar, and the importance of considering cervical spine injury is identical. Likewise, the need for jaw opening by physical or pharmacologic means is unchanged. This method is preferred to orotracheal intubation if the presence of an orotracheal tube might interfere with the repair of an oral injury. It is also useful when blind nasotracheal intubation has failed.
Preparation of the nose and nasopharynx and passage of the tube into the oropharynx are the same as described for blind nasotracheal intubation. It is with the introduction of the laryngoscope that the technique changes.
Laryngoscopy, as described with orotracheal intubation, is used to visualize the vocal cords and the tip of the endotracheal tube. With the Magill forceps in the right hand, the endotracheal tube is grasped proximal to the cuff (to avoid damage to the balloon) and directed toward the larynx . An assistant advances the tube gently while the operator directs the tip into the larynx and trachea. Cricoid pressure may facilitate the passage. Often the larynx can be manipulated sufficiently with the laryngoscope so that the physician can advance the tube with the right hand and guide it between the cords without using the Magill forceps. Occasionally, the natural curve of the tracheal tube guides it through the cords without any manipulation. The cuff is inflated, and both lungs are auscultated to ensure ventilation. When placement is satisfactory, the tube is secured.

Epistaxis is the most common complication of nasotracheal intubation. However severe epistaxis was encountered in only 5 of 300 cases reported by Danzl and Thomas. [42] Tintinalli and Claffey reported severe bleeding in 1 of 71 cases and less serious bleeding in 12 others. [54] Bleeding is usually not a problem unless it provokes vomiting or aspiration, a serious potential problem in obtunded patients with a clenched jaw or a decreased gag reflex. Other immediate complications include turbinate fracture, intracranial placement through basilar skull fracture, retropharyngeal laceration or dissection, and delayed or unsuccessful placement. Unsuccessful placement may be minimized by selection of a smaller tube and by gentle technique.
Sinusitis in patients with nasotracheal tubes is common and can be an unrecognized cause of sepsis. Rare but potentially fatal delayed complications include mediastinitis following retropharyngeal abscess and massive pneumocephalus.
Because most of the complications occur during tube advancement through the nasal passage and proximal nasopharynx, the complications of blind nasotracheal intubation and placement under direct vision are largely the same. However, retropharyngeal laceration and esophageal intubation are more of a threat in blind placement techniques because they are more likely to go unrecognized. One unique problem associated with nasotracheal intubation is damage of the tube cuff with the Magill forceps.
Delayed nasotracheal placement under direct vision deserves special discussion. Manipulation of the endotracheal tube through the nose and with the Magill forceps during the direct vision technique involves additional steps that require time. Because time is of the essence in the resuscitation of the critically ill patient, orotracheal intubation may be preferable.

Nasotracheal intubation is being used less frequently than in the past, because practitioners are increasingly comfortable using oral intubation in the patient with potential cervical spine injury. In addition, emergency physicians frequently use paralytics to facilitate orotracheal intubation. Nevertheless, nasotracheal intubation remains an effective and potentially life saving approach to the difficult airway and should be a dependable part of the armamentarium of all providers who are active in emergency airway management.


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