New anaesthesia technique saves patient with obstructed airway

A pioneering anaesthesia technique that makes surgery safer for patients with obstructed airways has helped save at least one life already, doctors in Australia said on Monday.

“An adult patient with an infected epiglottis was in danger of having his airway blocked by rapid swelling, and this technique enabled us to safely control his airway without surgery,” said Anton Booth, Senior Lecturer at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia.

“It is also making a difference to quality of life for those people who may previously have been unsuitable for surgery,” Booth said in a university news release.

In a study conducted at Australia’s Princess Alexandra Hospital, the team combined two relatively new techniques.

“Traditionally with anaesthesia we expect patients to stop breathing, as we are putting them into a state resembling a medically-induced coma,” Booth said.

“Our job as anaesthetists is to take over breathing for the patient to keep them oxygenated, often through intubation. In patients undergoing surgery for narrowed airways we can’t insert a tube into the trachea where the surgeons are trying to operate,” he said.

“Instead we implemented a way to keep the patient breathing spontaneously during anaesthesia,” Booth added.

The team supplemented that approach by adding high-flow nasal oxygen supply, previously used in intensive care and respiratory units.

“Through this combination we have been able to manage anaesthesia for patients with very challenging airway narrowing,” he said.

“We have been able to achieve quite spectacular improvements in oxygen levels while patients are in deep anaesthesia. This is a modern alternative to traditional techniques and has great potential to be used in many other scenarios,” Booth said.

The technique, known as STRIVE Hi, was detailed in the British Journal of Anaesthesia.