Background and objective Minimal- and low-flow anaesthesia (fresh gas flow below 1 L min−1) provide many advantages, including reduced cost, conservation of body heat and airway humidity. An airtight seal is essential between the airway device and the airway of the patient. Therefore, we investigated whether the airtight seal created by a laryngeal mask airway allows controlled ventilation of the lungs when the fresh gas flow is reduced to 0.5 L min−1 and compared this with an endotracheal tube.
Methods In a prospective clinical study, 207 patients were managed using a laryngeal mask or an endotracheal tube. After intravenous induction of anaesthesia and 15 min of high fresh gas flow, the flow was reduced to 0.5 L min−1. The breathing system was monitored for airway leaks, and the patients were assessed for complications after airway removal and postoperative discomfort.
Results Both the laryngeal mask and endotracheal tube allowed fresh gas flow reduction to 0.5 L min−1 in 84.7% and 98.3% of cases respectively (small leaks: 12% laryngeal mask, 1.7% endotracheal tube). Three patients with the laryngeal mask (3.3%l) had airway leaks that were too large to permit any reduction in the fresh gas flow.
Conclusions The use of the laryngeal mask airway was more likely to be associated with a gas leak than use of an endotracheal tube; however, if modern anaesthesia machines and monitors are used, in 96.7% of the patients managed with a laryngeal mask a reduction in the fresh gas flow to 0.5 L min−1 was possible. The incidence of coughing and postoperative complaints (sore throat, swallowing problems) was higher after use of an endotracheal tube.