Airway management in critical illness

UMMS Affiliation

Department of Anesthesiology

Publication Date


Document Type



Cervical Vertebrae; Humans; Hypnotics and Sedatives; Immobilization; *Intensive Care; Intubation, Intratracheal; Neuromuscular Agents; Obesity, Morbid


Anesthesiology | Life Sciences | Medicine and Health Sciences


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.

DOI of Published Version



Chest. 2007 Feb;131(2):608-20. Link to article on publisher's site

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