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Emergency Medical Services (EMS) providers are trained to place endotracheal tubes (ETTs) in the prehospital setting when indicated. Endotracheal tube cuffs are traditionally inflated with 10cc of air to provide adequate seal against the tracheal lumen. There is literature suggesting that many ETTs are inflated well beyond the accepted safe pressures of 20-30cmH2O, leading to potential complications including ischemia, necrosis, scarring, and stenosis of the tracheal wall. Currently, EMS providers do not routinely check ETT cuff pressures. It was hypothesized that the average ETT cuff pressure of patients arriving at the study site who were intubated by EMS exceeds the safe pressure range of 20-30cmH2O.
While ETT cuff inflation is necessary to close the respiratory system, thus preventing air leaks and aspiration, there is evidence to suggest that over-inflated ETT cuffs can cause long-term complications. The purpose of this study is to characterize the cuff pressures of ETTs placed by EMS providers.
This project was a single center, prospective observational study. Endotracheal tube cuff pressures were measured and recorded for adult patients intubated by EMS providers prior to arrival at a large, urban, tertiary care center over a nine-month period. All data were collected by respiratory therapists utilizing a cuff pressure measurement device which had a detectable range of 0-100cmH2O and was designed as a syringe. Results including basic patient demographics, cuff pressure, tube size, and EMS service were recorded.
In total, 45 measurements from six EMS services were included with ETT sizes ranging from 6.5-8.0mm. Mean patient age was 52.2 years (67.7% male). Mean cuff pressure was 81.8cmH2O with a range of 15 to 100 and a median of 100. The mode was 100cmH2O; 40 out of 45 (88.9%) cuff pressures were above 30cmH2O. Linear regression showed no correlation between age and ETT cuff pressure or between ETT size and cuff pressure. Two-tailed T tests did not show a significant difference in the mean cuff pressure between female versus male patients.
An overwhelming majority of prehospital intubations are associated with elevated cuff pressures, and cuff pressure monitoring education is indicated to address this phenomenon.
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