Objective: The aim of this article is to review aspects of airway evaluation that may affect the care of the critical care patient whose airway is to be managed. This information must then be incorporated into the decision-making process of the “airway manager.”
Design: Literature review.
Results: Historically used indexes of airway evaluation suffer from low sensitivity and only modest specificity in identifying the difficult-to-intubate patient. Using each index in isolation of others contributes to their poor predictive power. An understanding of anatomical relationships that these indexes measure should help the clinician in evaluating the airway. The clinician’s impression of the airway, as well as the likelihood of trouble with supraglottic ventilation, the patient’s inability to take food orally, and the patient’s general condition can be used to formulate a management plan. This plan should be consistent with the American Society of Anesthesiologist’s difficult airway algorithm.
Conclusions: Rote decision making on airway management, based on commonly used indexes, is not adequate. The vital role of airway in anesthetic management of the critical care patient demands thoughtful consideration. Patient conditions including the need for airway control, the likelihood of difficult laryngoscopy or supraglottic ventilation, the patient’s inability to take food orally, and the medical state of the patient must be incorporated.