Two methods can be used to assess the intra-cuff pressure of tracheostomy tubes: digital palpation of the pilot balloon and use of a hand-held manometer. We conducted a telephone survey to determine the prevalence of both methods in intensive care units within 21 teaching hospitals across the United Kingdom. Forty-two per cent of the intensive care units surveyed used a protocol for monitoring cuff pressure with a manometer.
A study to compare these two methods, using the manometer as the reference standard, was then carried out. The cuff pressure was correctly estimated in pre-inflated tracheostomy tubes, in a tracheal model, by 61 per cent of a cross-section of intensive care unit and otolaryngology staff.
Using pilot balloon palpation is inaccurate and leaves a significant proportion of patients at risk of tracheal injury. We advocate the wider availability of hand-held pressure manometers in intensive care units and the institution of protocols for monitoring cuff pressure for any patient with a tracheostomy tube with an inflated cuff in situ.C Faris and E Koury are the joint lead authors.