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The “Ear-Sternal Notch” Line—How Should You Lie?

Rahiman, Sarfaraz Navaz MBBS, MD, MRCPCH; Keane, Michael BMBS, FANZCA

doi: 10.1213/ANE.0000000000002493
Letters to the Editor: Letter to the Editor
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Published ahead of print September 14, 2017.

Department of Anaesthesia, Casey Hospital, Berwick, Victoria, Australia

Department of Anaesthesia, Casey Hospital, Berwick, Victoria, Australia, Centre for Human Psychopharmacology, Swinburne University, Victoria, Australia, Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, Monash University, Victoria, Australia, sarfraz_navaz@yahoo.com

Published ahead of print September 14, 2017.

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To the Editor

We refer to correspondence from Sinha et al1 who have devised a “scale-ampule assembly” method to optimally position the patient for intubation in the ramped position. We congratulate their effort and appreciate the simplicity of the device. Sinha et al’s1 correspondence should also be the catalyst for a wider discussion to address confusing terminology related to patient positioning for intubation.

Sinha et al1 recommend that the scale-ampule assembly be used to align the ear with the sternal notch in an imaginary line parallel to the ground. The basis for this imaginary line is to achieve the “sniffing position,” in so far as the “optimal positioning of the head and neck in the sniffing position is governed by the ability to flex the lower cervical spine and extend the occipito-atlanto-axial complex.”2 Levitan et al3 describe the head-elevated laryngoscopy position (Figure, A) and refer to excellent illustrations by Jackson in 1934 to describe the correct method for the elevation of the head to achieve the neck flexion of the sniffing position.

Figure.

Figure.

A crucial point of confusion is the term “ramping.” Ramping has been used to denote elevating only the very upper torso to include more flexion and rounding of the very upper thoracic spine to achieve head elevation in the otherwise supine patient. In a much-quoted study, Collins et al4 “ramped” their obese patients by placing blankets mostly under their patients’ heads to achieve what appears to be a “sniffing position,” as demonstrated by their representative photograph (group 2). In contrast, in the other arm of Collins et al’s4 study, the obese patients supposedly placed in the “sniff” position had a 1-size-fits-all 7-cm pillow, which, as judged by their representative photograph, in no way achieved the “sniffing position” (group 1). Unsurprisingly, they found that the ramped patients in the “true” sniffing position (group 2) achieved 88% grade 1 views as opposed to 66% of patients in group 1.

Alternatively, “ramping” can refer to angling up the whole torso in a semisitting position. This was the case in Semler et al’s5 randomized trial of the ramped position (25° whole-torso sitting position) (Figure, B) versus sniffing position during intubation of critically ill patients.4 The method for positioning the ramped patients’ head and neck, in effect, utilized an imaginary line parallel to the ground connecting the ear and the sternal notch.

While maintaining the line connecting the ear to the sternal notch parallel to the ground, the more the patient is sitting up with their whole torso ramped, the more neck extension will result; the very opposite of the desired neck flexion. Indeed, the anti-intubation nature of maintaining this parallel line in Semler et al’s5 “ramped” patients was confirmed by the finding that 20.8% of glottic views in the study were Cormick and Lehane grade 3 and 4.6% were grade 4. Figure C demonstrates what should be an appropriate angle of the imaginary line crossing the ear and sternal notch if a patient is “ramped” as defined by Semler et al.

How to position a patient for intubation is at the very core of airway management. Yet, there seems to be significant confusion regarding terminology, thus leading to polar opposite beliefs in what the optimum position should be. This confusion needs to be highlighted and a discussion had. Concerningly, medical websites6,7 devoted to teaching practitioners successful intubation are advocating the anti-intubation position of Semler et al, in the context of a misunderstanding of the imaginary parallel line.

Sarfaraz Navaz Rahiman, MBBS, MD, MRCPCH
Department of Anaesthesia
Casey Hospital
Berwick
Victoria, Australia

Michael Keane, BMBS, FANZCA
Department of Anaesthesia
Casey Hospital
Berwick
Victoria, Australia
Centre for Human Psychopharmacology
Swinburne University
Victoria, Australia
Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine
Monash University
Victoria, Australia
sarfraz_navaz@yahoo.com

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REFERENCES

1. Sinha A, Jayaraman L, Punhani DScale-ampule assembly to assess ramp position for airway management. Anesth Analg. 2017;124:2087.
2. Greenland KB, Edwards MJ, Hutton NJExternal auditory meatus-sternal notch relationship in adults in the sniffing position: a magnetic resonance imaging study. Br J Anaesth. 2010;104:268–269.
3. Levitan RM, Mechem CC, Ochroch EA, Shofer FS, Hollander JEHead-elevated laryngoscopy position: improving laryngeal exposure during laryngoscopy by increasing head elevation. Ann Emerg Med. 2003;41:322–330.
4. Collins JS, Lemmens HJ, Brodsky JB, Brock-Utne JG, Levitan RMLaryngoscopy and morbid obesity: a comparison of the “sniff” and “ramped” positions. Obes Surg. 2004;14:1171–1175.
5. Semler MW, Janz DR, Russell DW, et al.A multicenter, randomized Trial of ramped position versus sniffing position during endotracheal intubation of critically ill adults. Chest. 2017 May 6 [Epub ahead of print].
    6. Whitten CPositioning the head for intubation. Airw Jedi. 2016. Available at: https://airwayjedi.com/2016/04/01/positioning-the-head-for-intubation. Accessed September 8, 2017.
    7. Buck AManaging the obese difficult airway. EDExam. 2011. Available at: http://www.edexam.com.au/managing-the-obese-difficult-airway. Accessed September 8, 2017.
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