Management of difficult airway patients and the use of a difficult airway registry at a tertiary care pediatric hospital

Paul W. Sheeran, Brian K. Walsh, Andre M. Finley, Aleta K. Martin, Amy C. Brenski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Background Appropriate recognition and management of the pediatric difficult airway is essential. Two patient deaths in a 2-year period involving children with a known difficult airway led to the formation of the institution's multidisciplinary Difficult Airway Committee. Methods Patients with a suspected difficult airway or a known difficult airway are entered into a registry of difficult airway patients. A note describing the airway and any experiences at airway manipulation is entered as part of a difficult airway note in the patient's electronic medical record as soon as the patient is recognized as having a difficult airway. A call system has been developed to mobilize expert emergency airway assistance for these patients. Multiple additional methods are employed to ensure that all hospital personnel are aware that these patients are difficult to intubate. Results Since inception almost 6 years ago, 164 patients (mean age 9.2 years) have been enrolled in the difficult airway registry. Eighty-seven patients (53%) had one of 28 identified syndromes or diagnoses. The most common reasons for airway obstruction were mandibular hypoplasia/ micrognathia, decreased neck extension, and limited temporomandibular joint mobility. One hundred sixty-one patients (98%) in the registry were predicted by history or physical to have a difficult airway. The mortality of registry patients was 9.8% (n = 16) and was most commonly due to co-existing diseases. During the time period reviewed, there was one in-hospital death of a known difficult airway patient, in which expert airway assistance was not obtained in a timely fashion. Conclusion The institution's difficult airway registry identifies patients with a suspected or known difficult airway. The presence of a difficult airway in children can usually be predicted based on history and physical examination by anesthesiologists and otolaryngologists. Providers without advanced airway skills, however, may not appreciate that an airway is difficult to intubate until multiple attempts have failed. Both redundant notification methods and a call system optimize medical care of these fragile patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)819-824
Number of pages6
JournalPaediatric Anaesthesia
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • children
  • difficult airway management
  • laryngoscopy
  • registry

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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