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Bronchial Injury: An Avoidable Complication During Bronchial Intubation

Ovassapian, Andranik, MD; Klafta, Jerome M., MD

doi: 10.1097/00000539-200006000-00046
Letters to the Editor

Department of Anesthesia and Critical Care University of Chicago Chicago, IL 60637

The recent case report of left mainstem bronchus rupture after the use of a left double-lumen (LDL) tube by Gilbert et al. (1) is a reminder that such complications are bound to occur if we continue to rely on blind placement of endobronchial tubes.

A 37F LDL tube passed under direct vision into the trachea was blindly advanced into the left mainstem bronchus with the stylet in place. A flexible fiberoptic bronchoscope (FFB) was then passed through the tracheal lumen to confirm proper position of the bronchial cuff. Lung isolation was confirmed with auscultation; however, during thoracoscopy, the collapse of the upper lung was incomplete. The surgeon noticed the blue endobronchial cuff herniating out of the left mainstem bronchus and repaired the bronchus via open thoracotomy.

The laterally curved distal end of the LDL tube sustained by a metal stylet facilitates tracheal intubation and blind advancement of the tube into the left mainstem bronchus. Unfortunately, blind placement of the endobronchial tubes, with or without the stylet, increases the possibility of trauma to the trachea and the bronchial tree (2). There were 33 reports of tracheal and bronchial tree rupture with endobronchial tubes from 1972 to 1988, and we agree that this complication is underreported (2).

Blind bronchial positioning of the LDL tube results in right mainstem intubation 20% to 30% of the time (3–6). Repeated attempts may overcome this problem, but about 10% of the time, the FFB is necessary for directing the LDL tube into the left mainstem bronchus (3). Repeated attempts, as well as incorrect bronchial intubation, increase the possibility of tracheal or left and right mainstem bronchial tree rupture.

To minimize the possibility of tracheobronchial trauma, we have modified a technique described previously (7–8) by placing the LDL tube with the stylet in position inside a warm water bath. As soon as the tip of the tube is passed through the larynx with the aid of a rigid laryngoscope, the stylet is removed, and the tube is rotated 90° counterclockwise and advanced until the tracheal cuff is just past the vocal cords. The tracheal cuff is inflated, and the tube position is confirmed by auscultation and ETco2 monitoring. Mechanical ventilation is begun, and the FFB is passed through the bronchial lumen into the left mainstem bronchus to check the anatomy of the bronchial tree. The FFB tip is positioned 10 mm above the left upper lobe bronchus and is used as a guide for advancement of the bronchial tube into the left mainstem bronchus. Placing the tube into the warm water bath increases its softness to facilitate bronchial entry of the tubes over the FFB. The tip of the bronchial tube is positioned 5 to 10 mm above the opening of the left upper lobe bronchus. The FFB is then passed through the tracheal lumen to check bronchial cuff position and to observe bronchial cuff inflation.

It is unfortunate that blind placement of bronchial tubes is still a common practice even though the value of the FFB for proper placement of endobronchial tubes has been repeatedly documented (7,9,10). Our goal as anesthesiologists should be to use all the means at our disposal within the limits of practicality to avoid airway trauma.

Andranik Ovassapian MD

Jerome M. Klafta MD

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