Department of Emergency Medicine
INTRODUCTION: Over-inflation of endotracheal tube (ETT) cuffs has the potential to lead to scarring and stenosis of the trachea.1, 2,3, 4 The air inside an ETT cuff is subject to expansion as atmospheric pressure decreases, as happens with an increase in altitude. Emergency medical services helicopters are not pressurized, thereby providing a good environment for studying the effects of altitude changes ETT cuff pressures. This study aims to explore the relationship between altitude and ETT cuff pressures in a helicopter air-medical transport program.
METHODS: ETT cuffs were initially inflated in a nonstandardized manner and then adjusted to a pressure of 25 cmH2O. The pressure was again measured when the helicopter reached maximum altitude. A final pressure was recorded when the helicopter landed at the receiving facility.
RESULTS: We enrolled 60 subjects in the study. The mean for initial tube cuff pressures was 70 cmH2O. Maximum altitude for the program ranged from 1,000-3,000 feet above sea level, with a change in altitude from 800-2,480 feet. Mean cuff pressure at altitude was 36.52 +/- 8.56 cmH2O. Despite the significant change in cuff pressure at maximum altitude, there was no relationship found between the maximum altitude and the cuff pressures measured.
CONCLUSION: Our study failed to demonstrate the expected linear relationship between ETT cuff pressures and the maximum altitude achieved during typical air-medical transportation in our system. At altitudes less than 3,000 feet above sea level, the effect of altitude change on ETT pressure is minimal and does not require a change in practice to saline-filled cuffs.
endotracheal tube cuffs, altitude, helicopter transport, emergency medical services
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Copyright : © 2017 Weisberg et al
DOI of Published Version
West J Emerg Med. 2017 Jun;18(4):624-629. doi: 10.5811/westjem.2017.3.32078. Epub 2017 May 15. Link to article on publisher's site
The western journal of emergency medicine
Weisberg S, McCall JC, Tennyson J. (2017). Altitude-Related Change in Endotracheal Tube Cuff Pressures in Helicopter EMS. Open Access Articles. https://doi.org/10.5811/westjem.2017.3.32078. Retrieved from https://escholarship.umassmed.edu/oapubs/3149
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