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The information contained on this page is provided as general health information and is not intended to substitute as medical advice and direction from your physician or health care provider. Please direct any questions related to your health care provider. In an emergency, call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency center.


Emergency airway puncture

Definition

Emergency airway puncture is the placement of a hollow needle into the airway in the throat. It is done to treat life-threatening choking.

Alternative Names

Needle cricothyrotomy

Description

Emergency airway puncture is done in an emergency situation, when someone is choking and all other efforts to assist with breathing have failed.

  • A hollow needle or tube can be inserted into the throat, just below the Adam's apple (thyroid cartilage), into the airway. The needle passes between the thyroid cartilage and the cricoid cartilage.
  • In a hospital, before inserting the needle, a small cut is made in the skin and the membrane between the thyroid and cricoid cartilages.

Why the Procedure Is Performed

A cricothyrotomy is an emergency procedure to relieve an airway obstruction until surgery can be done to place a breathing tube (tracheostomy).

If the airway blockage occurs with trauma to the head, neck, or spine, care must be taken to avoid further injury to the person.

Risks

Risks for this procedure include:

  • Injury to the voice box (larynx), thyroid gland, or esophagus

Risks for any surgery are:

  • Bleeding
  • Infection

Outlook (Prognosis)

How well the person does depends on the cause of the airway blockage and how quickly the person receives proper breathing support. Emergency airway puncture provides enough breathing support for only a very short period of time.

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Emergency airway punctureCricoid cartilageEmergency airway puncture - series

References

Hebert RB, Bose S, Mace SE. Cricothyrotomy and percutaneous translaryngeal ventilation. In: Roberts JR, ed. Roberts and Hedges's Clinical Procedures in Emergency Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 6.

Thomas SH, Goodloe JM. Foreign bodies. In: Marx J, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 60.