BACKGROUND: Pre-hospital paediatric airway management is complex. A variety of pitfalls need prompt response to establish and maintain adequate ventilation and oxygenation. Anatomical disparity render laryngoscopy different compared to the adult. The correct choice of endotracheal tube size and depth of insertion is not trivial and often challenged due to the initially unknown age of child.
METHODS: Data from 425 paediatric patients (<17 years of age) with any airway manipulation treated by a Swiss Air-Ambulance crew between June 2010 and December 2013 were retrospectively analysed. Endpoints were: 1) Endotracheal intubation success rate and incidence of difficult airway management in primary missions. 2) Correlation of endotracheal tube size and depth of insertion with patient's age in all (primary and secondary) missions.
RESULTS: In primary missions, the first laryngoscopy-guided endotracheal intubation attempt was successful in 95.3% of cases, with an overall success rate of 98.6%. Difficult airway management was reported in 10 (4.7%) patients. Endotracheal tube size was frequently chosen inadequately large (overall 50 of 343 patients: 14.6%), especially and statistically significant in the age group below 1 year (19 of 33 patients; p < 0.001). Tubes were frequently and distinctively more deeply inserted (38.9%) than recommended by current formulae.
CONCLUSION: Difficult airway management, including cannot intubate and cannot ventilate situations during pre-hospital paediatric emergency treatment was rare. In contrast, the success rate of endotracheal intubation at the first attempt was very high. High numbers of inadequate endotracheal tube size and deep placement according to patient age require further analysis. Practical algorithms need to be found to prevent potentially harmful treatment.