The optimal approach to airway management in penetrating neck injuries (PNIs) remains controversial. The primary objective of this study was to review the method of endotracheal intubation in PNI at a Canadian tertiary trauma centre. Secondarily, we sought to determine the incidence of PNI in our trauma population and to describe the epidemiologic elements of this population.
We conducted a review of patients with PNIs who were enrolled in the Nova Scotia Trauma Registry database. We included all penetrating injuries of the neck in patients > or = 16 years of age from April 1, 1994 to March 31 2005 with an Injury severity Score (ISS) > or = 9 or who underwent Trauma Team activation at our Tertiary Trauma Centre (regardless of ISS) and/or who were identified upon admission as a "major" trauma case. The variables of interest were patient age and sex, injury mechanism, injury location, place of intubation and method of intubation.
There were 19 people who met inclusion criteria and they were enrolled in our study. The injury mechanisms involved knife (n = 13) or gunshot (n = 5) wounds (one patient's injuries were categorized as "other"). Three patients (15.8%) were not intubated. The remaining 16 patients were intubated during prehospital care (n = 5), in the emergency department (n = 6) or in the operating room (n = 5). Of these, 8 patients (42.1%) underwent awake intubation and 8 (42.1%) underwent rapid sequence intubation.
There is clear variability of airway management in PNI. We believe that such patients represent a heterogeneous group where the attending physician must have a conservative yet varied approach to airway management based on the individual clinical scenario.