Upper airway ultrasound: Easy to learn, facile to use!


Thoracic Oncology & Chest Procedures Network

Ultrasound & Chest Imaging Section

Point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS) is integral to the delivery of high-quality patient care. The benefits of POCUS for timely diagnosis and procedural assistance are well documented. With continued innovation, its novel benefits can extend to the upper airway evaluation in both inpatient and outpatient settings.

Adi et al notes that POCUS can serve as an adjunct to traditional airway checklists and help intensivists/anesthesiologists identify potentially difficult laryngoscopies, choose the correct endotracheal tube size to reduce the risk of subglottic stenosis, and help confirm appropriate endotracheal tube placement (Adi, et al. J Emerg Crit Care Med. 2019;3:31).

The prediction of a difficult airway is a potentially lifesaving use for this technology. The authors note that smaller studies demonstrate promising results in four techniques: the inability to visualize the hyoid bone using the sublingual approach, a shorter hyomental distance in morbidly obese patients, anterior neck thickness at different anatomical levels (vocal cords, hyoid bone, and thyroid membrane), and a tongue thickness of more than 6.1 cm from the submental approach were all capable of predicting difficult tracheal intubation with varying degrees of sensitivity and specificity.

In the outpatient setting, an understanding of the upper airway anatomy can help with sleep apnea screenings. Korotun, et al. demonstrated in a small sample that ultrasound evaluation of hyoid bone excursion during hypoglossal nerve stimulation may be a useful tool to predict response to therapy and guide hypoglossal nerve stimulator settings (Korotun, et al. Sleep. 2020;43[Suppl_1]:A247-A248).Upper airway ultrasound is easy to learn. The anatomical landmarks are similar in most patients. This convenient tool can be added to your patient care repertoire in a variety of clinical settings.

Sameer Khanijo, MD, FCCP
Section Member-at-Large

Navitha Ramesh, MD, FCCP
Section Vice-Chair

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