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The Procedural Pause

Renowned emergency physician James R. Roberts, MD, and his daughter, Martha Roberts, ACNP, CEN, are teaming up to create a new EMN blog, The Procedural Pause.

The blog will focus on procedures that emergency medicine residents and midlevel providers are often called on to perform in the ED. Each case will cover the basics, the best approach for treatment, and pearls and pitfalls.

The Procedural Pause publishes anonymous case studies that required an ED procedure. The site welcomes all providers to share their ideas about emergency medicine, procedures, and experience with similar cases. Application of the information in this blog remains the professional responsibility of the practitioner.

Like all texts, manuals, support guides, and blogs, this site conveys personal opinions and experiences. Providers may approach a patient or procedure in many ways, and this blog is not a dictum nor is it meant to dictate standard of care. It is a clinical guide, not a legal document; do not reference this site in court or as a defense. It is your responsibility to follow your hospital’s procedures and protocol and to practice under the guidelines of your professional license.

Monday, October 3, 2016

We promised you short, sweet, and simple solutions, and we plan to deliver. Many of the tools we want you to use may have merely been forgotten. The steps to complete these simple solutions will require just a few minutes of brushing up on the basics while watching our how-to videos and reading our step-by-step blog posts.

One of the lengthiest procedures in the emergency department can be eye irrigation. Some patients may need 5-15 liters of normal saline flush, which can take hours. Alkaline products need ample flushing and constant reevaluation with pH checks to avoid ocular burns. Patients can get frustrated and often times will ask you to stop the procedure. Keeping up with an eye irrigation patient can be difficult for providers as well, and create a long stay.

sink 2.jpg
This patient suffered from alkaline burns to both eyes. He is being treated with normal saline irrigation using a nasal cannula. Photo by Martha Roberts.

Many providers have traditionally used the Morgan Lens in the ED to assist in ocular irrigation. The process is time-consuming and sometimes painful, and it can cause corneal abrasions. Patients, especially children, have difficulty tolerating the lens. Insertion can be agonizing if proper anesthesia is not obtained. Depending on the patient, the lens may need to be replaced several times if there are multiple liters of irrigation. Many urgent care facilities and some EDs may not stock the Morgan Lens and need an alternative approach to treatment. Finally, the Morgan Lens can be harmful to the patient if the normal saline infusion bags run dry. Many times providers will be unable to monitor the lens/bolus. This can be frightening for the patient and can cause ocular trauma.

One of the best ways to irrigate the eye involves using IV saline via a nasal cannula and connector piece from a Salem Sump kit. This procedure is far less invasive than using the Morgan Lens and is less traumatic for the patient. Patients feel less claustrophobic and are able to move freely. It is an effective and forgotten form of treatment to consider the next time you need to irrigate a patient's eye.

The Approach

  • Careful but speedy examination of eye
  • Initial ocular anesthesia (i.e., tetracaine)
  • Oral pain or anxiety control
  • Set up an irrigation system using nasal cannula and normal saline
  • Repeat boluses of normal saline and pH status checks
  • Consult with poison control and ophthalmology as needed

The Procedure

  • Begin manual flushes of the eye as soon as possible after carefully (but quickly) examining the patient's eye. Do this while the irrigation system is being set up. The sooner the caustic agent is washed from the eye, the better.
  • Check the pH of the eye for a baseline. Your goal is to get as close to 7.0 as possible.


Sample of pH strip used for ocular pH testing.

  • Discuss with ophthalmology and poison control. If the patient has brought in the bottle of the chemical he was exposed to, report each ingredient to the specialists.
  • Equipment: Obtain several normal saline bags, a nasal cannula, tetracaine (or other ocular anesthesia), towels and absorbent padding, and an NG or Salem Sump kit.
  • Each Salem Sump kit contains a small, white plastic connector piece. This piece is key to attaching the NS IV line to the nasal cannula.

Salem Sump connector piece.

  • You may use tape to reinforce the connection, but the connection alone is quite secure once placed.
  • Set up a piggyback line to the IV connection so more than one bolus can run at a time and you can alternate without stopping.
  • Consider giving the patient oral pain control (if the caustic agent is painful) or antianxiety medication such as Valium to relax him during this lengthy procedure.
  • Administered ocular anesthesia into both eyes. This pain relief will help the patient tolerate the initial NS bolus. Additional numbing drops can be administered between boluses.
  • Have the patient remove all top layers of clothing. This procedure will get them wet. Then position the patient at a 30-degree angle on the stretcher.
  • Lay the nasal cannula over the bridge of his nose so that the prongs are directed to the inner canthus. If both eyes are affected, separating the two prongs will allow saline delivery into both.
  • If only one eye is affected, both prongs can be directed to a single eye.
  • Allow the NS to flow from the bag into the IV line and over the patient's face, across his eyes. This flow is quite powerful and will copiously irrigate the eyes. The patient does not need to keep his eyes open.
  • Continue this as needed and until the pH is at an acceptable level.
  • Follow up with ophthalmology as recommended.

closeup patient.jpgconnector 2.jpg
Watch a video demonstrating this technique
. The ports typically used for oxygen deliver the normal saline to both eyes, left. If one eye is affected, you can shift both prongs to that eye. Give ocular anesthesia before the first bolus. A patient may keep his eyes closed because the saline will bathe the inner canthus and inner eye. The saline is delivered at a fast rate, allowing for generous irrigation. The Salem Sump connector piece, right, connected to the NS bolus bag. Photos by Martha Roberts.

Cautions and Pearls

  • Patients get wet when you do this procedure. This also means they get cold. Consider frequent hospital gown changes, appropriate drainage techniques (such as using drainage headboards, towels, Chux, etc.). You should also give your patient some blankets. Use warmed NS if available.
  • Report all ingredients to poison control for assistance.
  • Remember to check the pH. It's important to wait 10 minutes between each NS bolus to check the pH level because it can continue to rise.
  • This is a long procedure at times and can cause anxiety. Absolutely use a numbing agent if the patient can tolerate it and frequently check on the patient. Reassurance can play a major role, but when it can't, anxiolytics can be of assistance.
  • Complete a full eye exam if possible, but do not delay irrigation tactics.
  • Discuss home medications with ophthalmology such as erythromycin or other antibiotics before discharge.
  • Tell patients to avoid wearing contact lenses for at least two weeks.

Toxicology Tip of the Week
Alkaline cleaning products can cause burns to the skin or face. Straightforward chemical burns from these products, however, generally only affect the eye. The solution is not absorbed systemically nor does it enter the nasal pharynx.

​Alkaline is Everywhere
Patients often present with known complaints of chemical burns to the eye, but some patients may not know they have an alkaline burn. A single case report of a chemical keratitis involved alkaline gas from a deployed passenger airbag. The authors noted that inflation of an airbag converts sodium azide to nitrogen gas. The bags are vented so that nitrogen and residual byproducts of combustion, such as alkaline gas, which could cause injury. (Ann Emerg Med 1992;21[11]:1400.)

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Sometimes the best solution is the simple one, and this series of handy tricks will help you master the most difficult problems. The majority of the procedures require old-school techniques with a new flare. Many of these might have been forgotten, but just a few minutes of brushing up on the basics while watching our how-to videos and reading our step-by-step blog will get you ready.

How many times have you removed objects from someone's ear? If it's too many to count and you have been successful, then you don't have to reinvent the wheel. But if you are looking for a different way to remove objects such as earbuds, insects, tips of glasses, wads of cotton, or other bizarre findings, then topical cocaine can help you painlessly remove foreign objects from the ear.

It is almost impossible for any patient to hold still while a clinician removes a deeply imbedded foreign body from the ear canal. It's just too sensitive of an area. Some foreign bodies can be removed with irrigation, and those easily seen and grasped can be removed with a gentle hand. IM/IV conscious sedation may be tried, but it is often not totally effective. A number of ways to anesthetize the canal have been suggested, but they are not readily effective. Topical cocaine is about the only way to anesthetize the canal enough, without distortion of anatomy, to gain successful topical anesthesia.

Importantly, don't persist if the foreign body cannot be removed. Persnickety foreign bodies are best removed by a specialist, and there is no shame in referring such cases. Creating a bloody mess in the canal makes it more difficult for patient and specialist.

The Approach

  • Identify the foreign body in the ear of the adult patient.
  • Use 4% or 10% cocaine hydrochloride solution.
  • Administration of solution into affected ear, then wait!
  • Painless removal of the foreign body

Procedural Tool Selection

  • The following tools may be of use to you. It's time to get acquainted with them if you are not familiar with the way they work.
  • 4% cocaine hydrochloride. A 10% solution may also be used.
  • Microscopic otoscope with removable lens
  • Nasal speculum
  • Headlamp or other appropriate lighting
  • Nasal speculum
  • Bayonet or alligator forceps
  • 20 g angiocatheter or 18 g needle, depending on patient
  • Emesis basin, Chux, and pads
  • Soft-tipped suction catheter or suction equipment
  • Magnet (for metallic foreign bodies)
  • Mineral oil or other bug-zapping solution
  • Acetone
  • Ethyl chloride
  • Intranasal midazolam (Versed) (See your hospital protocol for dosing guides.)

The Pause
Who is the wrong candidate for this procedure? You may have guessed it, but the pediatric population is excluded from this procedure. The use of cocaine in children is "limited by possible toxicity. (Emerg Med Clin North Am 1989;7[1]:117.) IM ketamine (4-5 mg/kg IM) is the best way to sedate a child to remove a stubborn foreign body of the ear canal.

The Procedure: Short and Sweet

  • Complete a full head, ears, eyes, nose, and throat (HEENT) exam.
  • Identify the foreign body at large. Use a microscopic technique. Good visualization is key. One study found that ear canal lacerations occurred in 48 percent of patients where removal was attempted without the use of a microscope, compared with only four percent where a microscope was used. (Laryngoscope 1993;103[4 Pt 1]:367.)
  • Prepare your workspace. Gather your equipment. Obtain 4% cocaine hydrochloride.
  • Position patient supine with the affected ear up. Fill the entire canal with cocaine. Allow cocaine to sit in place a full 20 minutes before attempting foreign body removal.
  • Remove the cocaine solution by aspiration or allow it to drain.
  • Use a nasal speculum to open the ear canal or direct vision to grasp the object, being careful to avoid the tympanic membrane. The alligator forceps are often the best instrument to grasp the object. Gently insert alligator or bayonet forceps to remove the foreign body. Be careful to avoid excessively touching the canal's surface; that's the most sensitive area.
  • Re-examine the canal to ensure that the object has been completely removed.
  • Follow-up is not routinely indicated unless hearing or other ear complaints persist.


  • Note that local anesthesia can be invasive and typically is used for complicated foreign body removal. An uncomplicated foreign body should be removed without additional measures because the external ear canal is sensitive and has incredibly delicate anatomy.
  • Did you check both ears? We hope so, because where there is one….
  • Complete a full HEENT (head, ears, eyes, nose and throat) exam.
  • Procedural sedation is required for foreign body removal of any kind in children. IM ketamine is probably the best way to sedate a child.
  • Is it a bug? Live insects in the ear should be stopped dead. You must first immobilize them before removal. The use of mineral oil, microscope oil, and viscous lidocaine have all been used to put them down. (Laryngoscope 2001;111[1]:15.)
  • Can't quite get it? Complications may occur, and we suggest contacting ENT (especially during business hours for immediate referral) if all else fails. If you continue to poke around in the ear, it may result in infection, perforation, pain, or other unintentional injury. (Laryngoscope 2003;113[11]:1912.)


  • You must consult ENT to have the foreign body removed by microscope and speculum if you are concerned about a tympanic membrane perforation.
  • Approach with caution if a button battery, hearing aid battery, or other electrical device is present. These, too, should be referred to ENT for removal. These electronic bodies are time-sensitive and potential liquefaction necrosis may lead to subsequent tympanic membrane perforation and further complications. In fact, irrigation should never be attempted in such cases because it accelerates the necrotic process. (Ear Foreign Body Removal Procedures. Medscape. Feb. 16, 2016; http://bit.ly/2aCnUQS.)

Tip of the Month

This month's tip comes directly from our patient, Dr. James Roberts. Although he is not our patient or model very often, celebrities are just like us! When cruising back through the Virginia area, Jim got a piece of this microphone ear bud stuck in his ear. Although Martha Roberts, NP, offered to remove it, he decided to head to the local ED where the helpful Dr. J. J. Sverha was ready to try a seasoned trick of the trade.

Jim was suffering from severe pain from his earbud accident after trying to pick and prod at it himself. After hours of unsuccessful attempts, he turned away his deaf ear, and let Dr. Sverha remove it carefully with this very procedure. Jim suggests using the least invasive techniques to remove objects from the ear. When positioning the patient, always have him lie on the unaffected side and drip the cocaine slowly into the ear. Special thanks to Dr. Sverha for his careful handling and success with Jim! The use of cocaine solution provided remarkable anesthesia.

​Insider Tips Worth Trading

  • Acetone has been used successfully to remove chewing gum, Styrofoam, and superglue from the ear canal. (J Laryngol Otol 1995;109[12]:1219.)
  • Ethyl chloride has been used to remove Styrofoam beads from the ear canal. (J Accid Emerg Med 2000;17[2]:91.)

​Watch Dr. Sverha anesthetize Dr. Roberts' ear with cocaine and then remove his foreign body.​


Monday, August 1, 2016

We are going to get up close and personal this month to talk about hemorrhoids. You should be familiar with these painful offenders because half to two-thirds of people between 45 and 65 will suffer from their cruelty. (Am Surg 2009;75[8]:635.) Patients may seek emergency department care if they experience bleeding or severe pain from hemorrhoids.

Hemorrhoids are highly vascular structures that are round or oval in shape. They arise from the rectal and anal canal, and sometimes appear around the anus itself. It is important to note that hemorrhoids do not have arteries and veins but special blood vessels called sinusoids, connective tissue, and smooth muscle. (Beck, DE, et al. The ASCRS Textbook of Colon and Rectal Surgery, Second Edition. New York, NY: Springer New York, 2015, p. 175.) Hemorrhoids at times can exist within the anal canal and be completely painless because sensory innervation to the rectum is primarily visceral. (Roberts JR, Hedges JR, et al. Clinical Procedures in Emergency Medicine. Elsevier, Philadelphia, PA, 2015, p. 880.)

Hemorrhoids protrude around the anus and swell, causing significant pain, when they become inflamed or irritated. The straining from constipation and poor diet choices may be the main cause of hemorrhoids, although lack of exercise, aging, pregnancy, and hereditary may also contribute to their formation. Very rarely are hemorrhoids cancerous. Fissures or tears in the skin around the rectum may occasionally accompany hemorrhoids.

Not all external hemorrhoids contain clots; some are just swollen and irritated and not amenable to incision. Some hemorrhoids are swollen, soft, and compressible, and may be tender. If the hemorrhoid is not tense or a clot is not palpated, topical corticosteroids and sitz baths are the best intervention.

Thrombosed external hemorrhoids are readily drained in the ED. Surgical intervention for internal hemorrhoids is not an outpatient procedure and usually is a last resort. Hemorrhoid surgery can be a difficult procedure for many to endure, and patients who suffer from long-term hemorrhoid complaints may benefit from a visit to a colorectal surgeon. A colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy may assist in ruling out more complicated or serious diagnoses.

​Anatomy Review
Hemorrhoids are veins in the rectum. They are normal vascular structures in the anal canal, arising from a channel of arteriovenous connective tissues that drain into the superior and inferior hemorrhoidal veins. They are located in the submucosal layer in the lower rectum and may be external, internal, or mixed based on their location relative to the dentate line. External hemorrhoids are located distal to the dentate line; internal ones are located proximal. Hemorrhoidal bleeding is characterized by the painless passage of bright red blood from the rectum with a bowel movement. Painful defecation is not associated with hemorrhoids unless they are thrombosed. Acute onset of perianal pain with perianal swelling suggests the presence of a thrombosed hemorrhoid.

Hemorrhoids can produce bleeding with a bowel movement, itching, pain, feces leakage, difficulty cleaning after a bowel movement, or tissue bulging around the anus. Patients may be able to see or feel hemorrhoids, or they may be hidden from view inside the rectum. Hemorrhoids are classified as internal or external; internal ones are best treated by medication and a surgeon, but acutely thrombosed external hemorrhoids are fair game for drainage in the ED or clinic. Neither type of hemorrhoid is painful unless complications develop.

Both internal and external hemorrhoids can develop clots in the vessels. A thrombosed hemorrhoid is extremely tender to palpation, and a thrombus may be palpable within the tense hemorrhoid. Internal hemorrhoids can also contain a clot, but more likely prolapse outside the rectum, causing significant pain and increased bleeding. Prolapsed internal hemorrhoids appear as dark pink, glistening, and tender masses at the anal margin. Thrombosed internal hemorrhoids can cause pain but to a lesser degree than external hemorrhoids. An exception is when internal hemorrhoids become prolapsed and strangulated, and develop gangrenous changes from the associated lack of blood supply.

External hemorrhoids are not typically graded, but internal hemorrhoids are according to the degree to which they prolapse from the anal canal. Grade I hemorrhoids are visualized on anoscopy and may bulge into the lumen but do not prolapse below the dentate line. Grade II hemorrhoids prolapse out of the anal canal with defecation or with straining but reduce spontaneously. Grade III hemorrhoids prolapse out of the anal canal with defecation or straining, and require manual reduction. Grade IV hemorrhoids are irreducible and may strangulate, and urgent surgery is required for grade IV internal hemorrhoids, though rubber band ligation is the most widely used procedure for other grades. Rubber bands or rings are placed around the base of an internal hemorrhoid. As the blood supply is restricted, the hemorrhoid shrinks and degenerates over several days. Banding is successful in approximately 70 to 80 percent of patients. (Roberts & Hedges, 2015.)

This current discussion concerns diagnosis and treatment of thrombosed external hemorrhoids only. These are covered by modified squamous epithelium (anoderm), which contains numerous somatic pain receptors, making external hemorrhoids extremely painful with thrombosis. Thrombosed external hemorrhoids are acutely tender and have a purplish hue, and occasionally a partially extruded clot can be seen. Patients present with acute onset of perianal pain and a palpable perianal "lump" from thrombosis. Thromboses of external hemorrhoids may be associated with excruciating pain as the overlying perianal skin is highly innervated and becomes distended and inflamed. Importantly, not all swollen external hemorrhoids contain an organized extractable clot, and incision of a swollen hemorrhoid is of no value unless a clot is present. A clotted hemorrhoid is generally very firm and discolored from the underlying clot.

hem 1.jpg
Typical appearance of external hemorrhoids. Note the partially extruded clot from one thrombosed hemorrhoid. The other hemorrhoids are swollen, but are soft and do not contain a clot. Incision of non-thrombosed hemorrhoids should be avoided. They are treated with frequent sitz baths and topical corticosteroid ointments. (Photo by Martha Roberts.)

The ED is a place people will visit for this ailment, and you need to be ready. Hemorrhoids aren't just for grandmas and grownups but also occur in children and athletes. In fact, George Brett, one of baseball's Hall-of-Fame inductees, had to stop playing in the 1980 World Series because of hemorrhoid pain. Glenn Beck, a well known talk show host, took his treatment of hemorrhoids to the next level in 2008 by having surgery and speaking out about his case. He stated that the pain medications (opioids) only made his hemorrhoids worse and affected his mental state. (http://cnn.it/29iIAvV.) Stories like this give rise to concerns of pain control complications and addiction. ED interventions can help patients be well and learn about nonopioid treatments.

Now that you know a little bit more about hemorrhoids and their mercilessness, we are going to highlight some ways you can treat painful, thrombosed external hemorrhoids. Remember, internal hemorrhoids are not treated by minor surgery in the ED. We are also going to remind you that your craft requires compassion and that treatment should be carefully completed.

The Procedure

  • Identification of thrombosed external hemorrhoids and differentiation from prolapsed internal hemorrhoids
  • Sedation/pain control techniques, usually parenteral opioids
  • Cleaning of area and application of topical LET or EMLA cream
  • Taping technique and setup
  • Injection of anesthesia used during the procedure
  • Removal of thrombosis and drainage with incision
  • Follow-up care and treatments

hem 3.jpg
Multiple external hemorrhoids. Not all visible hemorrhoids contain a thrombosis. A clot produces a firm palpable mass. If a clot is not palpated, do not incise. Note partially extruded clot in one hemorrhoid. (Photo by Martha Roberts.)

The Pause
How do we identify thrombosed external hemorrhoids and when do we need to intervene? A thrombosed hemorrhoid will be protruding from the anal canal around the anus. The hemorrhoid itself will appear dark blue or purple, and appear quite swollen. The hemorrhoid appears this color because of the collection of blood clots inside the hemorrhoid itself. This can cause significant pain, and incision and drainage may help with relief. Thrombosed external hemorrhoids that are not drained most likely will spontaneously rupture in one to three weeks and leave a skin tag behind. Sitz baths two to three times a day are often curative if a patient declines drainage in the ED.

The Approach

  • Provide an area of privacy for comfort. Professionalism, kindness, and caring are key to successful treatment.
  • Positioning this patient is variable. There are several ways to position the patient including prone, left lateral decubitus, or Sims knee-shoulder position. Our position of choice will be prone. Patients with breathing complications, obesity, claustrophobia, or anxiety may not be good candidates for this procedure.
  • A digital rectal exam should be completed with guaiac testing if indicated. Anoscope may not be needed for severely thrombosed hemorrhoids and too painful to complete.
  • A CBC and 500 mL bolus may be ordered if the patient reports copious bleeding.
  • Obtain IV access and administer sedation/pain control. IV opioids are best, providing some relaxation/sedation as well as analgesia. IV fentanyl, hydromorphone, and morphine are suitable options. Use appropriate dosing. Be sure to monitor the patient's airway during the procedure with end-tidal CO2 and oxygen saturation. Do not forget to document appropriately.
  • Clean the area well with soap and water and Betadine.
  • Apply LET, a combination of lidocaine (2%), epinephrine (0.1%), and tetracaine (0.5%), and wait 20 minutes. EMLA cream is also suitable, but can take up to one hour to work.
  • Ask the nurse, technician, or another provider to assist with initial investigating and setup.
  • Use 2-inch tape to tape the buttock apart. This will allow for free use of both hands and full exposure.
  • Locate the thrombosed hemorrhoid and prepare for analgesic injection.
  • Obtain a 25-gauge needle and 10 mL syringe for medication injection.
  • Obtain a suture kit and 11-blade scalpel for incision and drainage.
  • Use a single injection of buffered long-acting bupivicane (NOT LIDOCAINE) with epinephrine. Buffer the injection with sodium bicarbonate.
  • Infiltrate the thrombosed hemorrhoid just under the skin and over the dome of the hemorrhoid. Avoid deep injection, and inject slowly.
  • If full pain control is not achieved, you may advance the needle slightly and inject more analgesia.
  • Make an elliptical incision around the clot and direct it radially from the anal orifice. An elliptical incision should be made as opposed to a simple cut because premature closing of the incision may prevent clots from dissolving.
  • Squeeze the hemorrhoid with your fingertips to express clots.
  • Forceps may be used to remove residual clots.
  • Do not pack the hemorrhoids. Apply pressure to the site to control bleeding. Use a folded gauze to pad over the operative site and tape the buttock closed to hold it in place. Gelfoam may be used to help control bleeding.
  • Home care: Have the patient soak in a few inches of water in warm tub bid for the next two to three days. NSAIDs are first-line treatment for pain and inflammation. Wash (shower is best) the anal area after every bowel movement with soap and water. Post-operative opioids are relatively safe in small amounts with stool softener and increased fluids. Fiber regimen should be added after healing.
  • Antibiotics are not indicated.
  • Warn patients of residual skin tags and that scant bleeding is OK.
  • Plan colorectal follow-up care.


Contraindications and Cautions

  • Thrombosed external hemorrhoids are most effectively drained less than 48 hours after onset. Prolapsed/thrombosed internal hemorrhoids are not amenable to ED surgical drainage.
  • Consider surgical consult for prolapsed internal hemorrhoids, multiple external hemorrhoids, or severe bleeding.
  • You should not complete this procedure on patients who are obese, who have breathing disorders or airway compromise, bleeding disorders, seriously systemic illness, rectal abscess, or who are hemodynamically unstable.
  • Patients using aspirin, Plavix, warfarin, or other anticoagulants should be approached with caution and possibly referred to a colorectal surgeon, although it is not an absolute contraindication.
  • A post-thrombectomy flexible sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy based on the presence of associated symptoms and risk factors for colorectal cancer should be considered in patients over 40.
  • Have the patient increase his fluid intake. Steroid creams should not be applied until the incision has healed, and then should be applied twice a day for no more than seven days.

Supportive Treatments and Prophylaxis
Topical analgesics can be used postoperatively. Topical corticosteroids and astringents can control itching and irritation. Avoiding constipation and straining with stool bulking agents and softeners are the best ways to prevent recurrence.

Drugs Used for Hemorrhoids

  • Benzocaine 5-20% rectal ointment or other topical analgesic
  • Astringents such as witch hazel (Tucks, Preparation H pads) zinc oxide (Desitin)
  • Bulk-forming laxatives (oral): methylcellulose (Citrucel), polycarbophil (FiberCon), psyllium (Metamucil), wheat dextrin (Benefiber)
  • Corticosteriods (topical): hydrocortisone rectal creams 1 to 2.5% (Anusol-HC, Preparation H, Proctosol-HC); hydrocortisone rectal suppository 25 to 30 mg (Anusol-HC)
  • Stool softeners: ducosate sodium (Colace)

Tip of the Week: Antispasmodic Agents
Several types of agents can be useful for reducing anal sphincter spasm. A small series suggested that topical 0.5% nitroglycerin ointment may provide temporary analgesia by reducing internal anal sphincter spasm. (Dis Colon Rectum 1995;38[5]:453.)

Watch a video of hemorrhoid treatment in the ED​.

hem 2.jpg 

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Ultrasound may seem intimidating at first, but it is not a procedure out of your reach. Those of you still feeling shy about it should just play with it to increase your comfort level. It's OK to be early for a shift or to stay late figuring out the machine. Try using ultrasound on patients who will allow it and scribes who don't say no. It can't hurt, and it will make you a better and more knowledgeable provider.

We all know an "official" ultrasound is needed to confirm a suspected DVT, but what if you just need to know right away? Picture this: You are starting an overnight shift and are already 10 patients deep. Your 55-year-old patient with leg pain and unilateral leg swelling is waiting for an ultrasound, and it's going to be awhile. Your plan is to do some basic labs and obtain the official ultrasound to rule out a DVT. The patient has a few risk factors for DVT and a story to match. Why not test your bedside skills and see what you can see?

Bedside ultrasound for DVT is a great way to plan your night and your patient's future. You begin to ask yourself if you need to transfer this patient, probably let him go home, or admit him to the hospital. It's nice to know where your ducks are, so throwing the ultrasound on patients to make a decision from the get-go is imperative. Then you can order that official test. Why can't you do it, too? The good news is you can, and here is how.

The Procedure
Bedside ultrasound with linear probe to detect DVT in lower extremity
Collection of data, formal ultrasound, and admit/discharge plan

​The Pause
We want to draw your attention directly to our video. If you have been following our series on ultrasound, all you need to do is watch this and like magic, you have your answer. You can read the first four part of this ultrasound series on our website. (See box.)

Watch Dr. Amie Wood demonstrate using ultrasound for detecting DVT.

PP July2016.png

Clinical Pearls and EBP
The best way to detect proximal lower extremity DVTs in the emergency department is to use a "modified 2-point compression technique that focuses on the highest probability areas, decreases the study time to less than 5 minutes, and provides similar sensitivity and specificity." (Acad Emerg Med 2000;7[2]:120.)

A "negative compression ultrasound study may safely delay the need for anticoagulation therapy" if a patient has a clinically suspected DVT. (BMJ 1998;316[7124]:17) Not only does bedside-provider ultrasound help determine the diagnosis and plan, the 2-point DVT compression examination has been "assessed in multiple randomized controlled studies and is well accepted when used properly with pretest probability assessments" (JAMA 2008;300(14):1653.) It's imperative you try it and expedite the care of your patient who need it most.

​Tip of the Week
Amie Woods, MD, a clinical ultrasound expert, has some tips if you decide to dabble in the artistry we call ultrasound. Dr. Woods suggests using the bedside ultrasound test to help make clinical decisions. Usually, following the common femoral vein to the mid thigh will give you the results you need. This can be a reasonable tool to diagnosis DVT if you can confirm the compressibility. It's important to note that this does not rule out superficial DVT. All superficial DVTs have the ability to form a true DVT and need formal outpatient follow-up or a repeat study. But this means it's possible for you to send patients home on high-dose aspirin therapy and schedule a repeat exam with a vascular surgeon. Formal studies are never a bad idea, but your steady hand can help predict the long-term outcome.

Suggested Reading

  • Crisp JG, Lovato LM, Jang TB. Compression Ultrasonography of the Lower Extremity with Portable Vascular Ultrasonography Can Accurately Detect Deep Venous Thrombosis in the Emergency Department. Ann Emerg Med 2010;56(6):601.
  • Frazee BW, Snoey ER, et al. Negative Emergency Department Compression Ultrasound Reliably Excludes Proximal Deep Vein Thrombosis. (Abstract 102.) Acad Emerg Med 1998;5(5):406.
  • Nunn KP, Thompson PK. Towards Evidence-Based Emergency Medicine: Best Bets from the Manchester Royal Infirmary. Using the Ultrasound Compression Test for Deep Vein Thrombosis Will Not Precipitate a Thromboembolic Event. Emerg Med J 2007;24(7):494.

Read the first four parts of this series:
Part 1: We Had You at Ultrasound
Part 2: Foreign Body Removal
Part 3: Eye Think It's the Retina
Part 4: Ultrasound-Guided IV Line Placement

Wednesday, June 8, 2016


This Father's Day, Emergency Medicine News would like to recognize a true leader in emergency medicine. James R. Roberts, MD, a distinguished professor and emergency physician, is one of the founding fathers of the specialty. Since 1972he directly assisted in building the profession, paving the way for thousands of individuals who now call the ED their home.

Dr. Roberts was one of the first emergency physicians in the country, and he has taught tens of thousands of students over the years including physicians, fellows, residents, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and nurses. His expertise is recognized worldwide, and his procedure textbook, Clinical Procedures in Emergency Medicine, is a staple in every ED, not to mention the global reach of his EMN column. (http://emn.online/INFOCUS-JR.) Dr. Roberts' clinical work in the ED and his toxicology expertise have helped saved the lives of thousands of sick children and adults.

This video is a small collection of images highlighting some of his work in emergency medicine​. Many of these photos were captured during my first clinical rotation alongside Dr. Roberts and his team at Mercy Hospital of Philadelphia, where he was chairman for more than 20 years. It would be impossible to compile a video of all the photos he took of patients and procedures over the past decades, but these are some of the most memorable.

Not only has Dr. Roberts groomed students and new practitioners, he has also taught many, including me, the art of the profession. It's not often you find his kind of intelligence anywhere, but when you do, it is rarely in his modest form. He manages to effortlessly balance his great intellect with a great sense of humor and wit that makes practicing emergency medicine rewarding, interesting, and fun.

I am truly lucky to call him Dad. He taught me everything from my ABCs in grade school to the ABCs of ED patients. He is a truly unique and dedicated soul, but he is, above all else, a caring person. Not only is he highly educated, he practices with feeling, intuition, common sense, and passion. His modest mentorship and enthusiasm for emergency medicine is contagious, in a good way.

This fall during the American College of Emergency Physicians Scientific Assembly in Las Vegas, Dr. Roberts will receive the award for Outstanding Contribution in Education. In nominating him for that award, Anthony S. Mazzeo, MD, wrote, "He has educated physicians worldwide on the nuances of all aspects of EM, from the mundane to the exotic, all with the charisma and erudite vocabulary that is undeniably 'trademark Roberts'. … Dr. Roberts remains a humble, modest, dedicated, and hard-working educator who would clearly never seek the recognition of this award. However, those of us who have worked with Jim and learned from Jim over the years feel this recognition is undeniably warranted."

Happy Father's Day to all the fathers of emergency medicine, and Happy Father's Day to my Dad, James R. Roberts, MD.

About the Author

James R. Roberts, MD & Martha Roberts, ACNP, CEN

James R. Roberts, MD, is the director of the division of toxicology at Mercy Catholic Medical Center, and a professor of emergency medicine at the Drexel University College of Medicine, both in Philadelphia. He is also the chairman of the editorial board of Emergency Medicine News, and has written InFocus for more than 25 years.

Martha Roberts, ACNP, CEN, is an acute care nurse practitioner for Johns Hopkins Medicine at the Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, DC, an adjunct faculty associate and clinical instructor of nursing at the Malek School of Health Professions, Marymount University in Arlington, VA, and is Dr. Roberts’ daughter.

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