|Other names: Cric, crike, thyrocricotomy, cricothyroidotomy, inferior laryngotomy, intercricothyrotomy, coniotomy, emergency airway puncture, emergency surgical airway|
|In cricothyrotomy, the incision or puncture is made through the cricothyroid membrane, between the thyroid and cricoid cartilage. Should be horizontal rather than vertical.|
|Indications||Cannot intubate and cannot ventilate|
|Contraindications||Less than 6 to 8 years old|
|Steps||1) Locate the cricothyroid membrane (CTM)|
2) Make a 4 cm vertical cut in the skin
3) Make a horizontal cut through the CTM
4) Place a finger than bougie through the hole
5) Pass a 6.0 ET tube over the bougie
|Success||End-tidal CO2, bilateral chest rise|
|Complications||Bleeding, infection, fistula formation|
Cricothyrotomy is a cut through the skin and cricothyroid membrane to establish an airway when other means of ventilating a person, such as intubation and bag valve mask fail. This may include in the setting of excessive bleeding within the mouth or facial trauma.
While the procedure can be done in a number of ways, a common technique is the "scalpel-finger-bougie". The first step is locating the cricothyroid membrane (CTM) between the thyroid and cricoid cartilage. A 4 cm vertical cut is made through the skin. A horizontal cut is made through the CTM. A finger and then a bougie is placed in the hole. A 6.0 ET tube is then placed over the bougie until the cuff just disappears at which point it is inflated.
Signs of success include end-tidal CO2 and chest rise on both sides. The ET tube is than secured in place. In those at high risk, set up for a cricothyrotomy may be done before starting intubation. The procedure cannot be carried out in those under the age of 6 to 8 years, though jet ventilation may be done in younger people. Cricothyrotomy is easier to perform than a tracheotomy, though this procedure may be performed at a later date.
The procedure was first formally carried out in 1909, though did not come into common use until the 1970s. Use has become less common due to other improvements in airway management. The average time to perform the procedure is just over a minute.
A cricothyrotomy is often used as an airway of last resort given the numerous other airway options available including standard tracheal intubation and rapid sequence induction which are the common means of establishing an airway in an emergency scenario. Cricothyrotomies account for approximately 1% of all emergency department intubations, and is used mostly in persons who have experienced a traumatic injury.
Some general indications for this procedure include:
- Inability to intubate
- Inability to ventilate
- Inability to maintain SpO2 >90%
- Severe traumatic injury that prevents tracheal intubation
There are no absolute contraindications. Relative contraindications include:
- Fractured larynx
- Children under 5 to 12 years old (a 10–14 gauge catheter over the needle may be used)
Sedation such as with 20 mg of intravenous ketamine may be used if required and time permits. The person is placed on their back and if a roll can be placed between the shoulders it may make the procedure easier.
- The first step is to feel the laryngeal prominence (Adam's apple) or the thyroid cartilage. Moving 2 centimeters lower on the neck in a depression representing the cricothyroid membrane (CTM) after which is the cricoid cartilage.
- Make a 4 centimeter vertical cut through the skin over the CTM
- Bluntly dissection with fingers down to the CTM
- Cut with the scalpel horizontally through the CTM and place your finger through the hole
- Pass the bougie through the hole guiding it inferiorly
- Pass a 6.0 cuffed endotracheal tube over the bougie
- Bag valve mask with end tidal CO2 attached
A needle cricothyrotomy is similar, but instead of making a scalpel incision, a large over-the-needle catheter is inserted (10- to 14-gauge). Air is aspirated and a wire is placed through the needle. A dilator and tube is than placed over the wire. There are specially designed kits with this equipment.
If the dilator and tube is not used the technique provides very limited airflow. The delivery of oxygen to the lungs through an over-the-needle catheter using a high pressure gas source is considered a form of ventilation called percutaneous transtracheal ventilation (PTV).
Society and culture
On the TV show M*A*S*H, Father Mulcahy performs an emergency cricothyrotomy on a person. With the direction of Dr. Pierce via radio, he uses a pen, knife and an eyedropper to perform the operation. Needless to say, this would be extremely dangerous in real life. Even under ideal, clinical conditions, a cricothyrotomy is difficult and requires specific tools, preparation and a practiced knowledge of anatomy. There are many major blood vessels and nerves in the neck and cutting there carries a high risk of harming the person.
In Grey's Anatomy, emergency cricothyrotomy is mentioned in at least three episodes:
- In "Owner of a Lonely Heart," Cristina almost performs an emergency cricothyrotomy on a patient who swallowed a light bulb. Before she is able to do so, however, Dr. Burke shows up and takes the patient to an operating room where he proceeds to perform an emergency thoracotomy.
- In "The Heart of the Matter," Izzie performs her first emergency crike on Camille, a niece of Chief of Surgery Dr. Richard Webber.
- In "I Saw What I Saw" Alex performs a crike on the patient who later dies.
In the ER episode "Reason to Believe" Dr. Kerry Weaver performs an emergency cricothyrotomy on a student. She is shooting a news segment on childhood obesity in an elementary school cafeteria when one of the students begins to choke; after the heimlich maneuver fails, she performs a cricothyrotomy with a kitchen knife and a drinking straw.
In the film Playing God (1997), David Duchovny plays a famed LA surgeon, stripped of his license due to drug abuse, who finds himself witnessing a gunfight at a bar. He saves a mafia crime figure by performing an emergency cricothyrotomy. This endears him with the mafia family and drives the plot forward.
In the BBC3 medical drama Bodies, the main protagonist Rob Lake, a newly appointed obstetrics and gynaecology registrar (played by Max Beesley), is called to a patient who is having difficulty breathing due to epiglottitis. Lake calls for emergency assistance but help is slow coming, so fearing for the patient's life decides to undertake a cricothyrotomy himself - a procedure he has not been trained in. The procedure is unsuccessful and the patient dies before help arrives. The guilt surrounding the event combined with the covering up by his consultant provides an important backdrop to the further development of the character and his relationship with his consultant.
In Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, Sully, the white man raised by Native Americans who is her lover and companion, performs the procedure on one of Dr. Quinn's boys using a bird's feather (the base where it is hollow).
During an episode of the National Geographic Channel documentary "Inside Combat Rescue", a US Air Force Pararescueman in Afghanistan performs an actual cricothyrotomy on a wounded civilian, in a helicopter maneuvering under combat conditions. The procedure is successful and the patient is delivered to Kandahar Regional Medical Hospital.
On the New Zealand soap opera Shortland Street, Series 21, Episode 5104/5105, student doctor Paige Munroe performs a cricothyrotomy with a pocket knife and pen and saves a woman's life, even though she was not qualified (and nervous).
In the 1997 film Anaconda, when the character Dr. Steven Cale (Eric Stoltz) is stung in the mouth by a poisonous wasp found in his scuba equipment, Paul Serone (Jon Voight) performs the procedure using a pocket knife and rigid plastic tube.
- M. Gregory Katos; David Goldenberg (June 2007). "Emergency cricothyrotomy". Operative Techniques in Otolaryngology. 18 (2): 110–114. doi:10.1016/j.otot.2007.05.002. Retrieved 25 July 2010.
- "How To Do a Percutaneous Cricothyrotomy - Critical Care Medicine". Merck Manuals Professional Edition. Retrieved 18 March 2021. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
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- "Surgical Cricothyroidotomy • LITFL Medical Blog • CCC Airway". Life in the Fast Lane • LITFL. 1 January 2019. Retrieved 18 March 2021. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
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- M*A*S*H 5x08 "Mulcahy's War", retrieved 2019-11-20
- Combat cricothyrotomy inflight -Inside Combat Rescue series | PHARM
- EMRAP: Cricothyroidotomy
- Life in the Fastlane: Cricothyroidotomy
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- Smiths Medical Cricothyroidotomy Kits
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