Pre-hospital airway management – the debate continues

 In a recent editorial published in Resuscitation, entitled ‘Pre-hospital airway management: The data grows rapidly but controversy remains’, David Lockey and Hans Morten Lossius discuss the results from three studies published in the same issue:

1. An update of out of hospital airway management practices in the United States.

2. Higher insertion success with the i-gel supraglottic airway in out-of-hospital cardiac arrest: A randomised controlled trial.

3. The impact of airway management on quality of cardiopulmonary resuscitation: an observational study in patients during cardiac arrest.

An update of out of hospital airway management practices in the United States

Digges et al utilised the 2012 National Emergency Medical Services Information System (NEMSIS) Public-Release Research Data Set to examine over 19 million EMS activations. This included 74,993 intubations, 21,990 alternate airway patient care events (confirmed as either a Combitube®, Esophageal Obturator, Laryngeal Mask Airway or King LT®) and 1,332 Cricothyroidotomys. BVM ventilation was undertaken on 56,025 occassions and there were 54,241 oropharyngeal airway (OPA) and 404,828 nasopharyngeal airway (NPA) interventions.

Overall intubation success was 85.3%. Alternate airway success rates were 79.6% overall. The most successful of these was was the King LT® (89.7%) and the least successful the Esophageal Obturator (38.0%).

It is interesting to make some comparison of these results to an earlier examination of the same database for EMS activations four years earlier in 2008. The earlier study included fewer states, so any comparison must be undertaken with caution, but the alternate airway devices recorded as having been used were the same in both reports.

This is worth noting, as the alternate airway devices used are quite different from those used in some other markets such as the UK. As reported in a previous blog post, in the Adult ALS chapter of the Resuscitation Council (UK) 2010 Resuscitation Guidelines, it is confirmed that ‘The Combitube® is rarely, if ever, used in the UK and is no longer included in these guidelines’, and in addition that the Laryngeal Tube (LT) ‘is not in common use in the UK’. What about the rest of Europe? In the 2010 European Resuscitation Council (ERC) Guidelines for Resuscitation, it is stated that ‘Use of the Combitube® is waning and in many parts of the world is being replaced by other devices such as the LT’. In the two papers utilising the NEMSIS data discussed in this blog post, there is no mention of the newer 2nd generation SADs such as the i-gel® and LMA Supreme® which are in regular use in many countries.

In an editorial published in 2009 in Resuscitation, the official journal of the European Resuscitation Council, entitled, ‘Airway management for out-of-hospital cardiac arrest – More data required’, Nolan and Lockey concluded that ‘New airway devices appear frequently but, in our opinion, the three currently available disposable SADs that need to be studied for use during CPR are the i-gel®, the LMA Supreme® and the disposable LT’. Only one of these devices, the LT, was used in the Diggs update of out-of-hospital airway management practices in the United States.

This is significant, as the authors of the update of out of hospital airway management practices in the U.S. state that, ‘This study and many others show that there are problems with out-of-hospital ETI. The results of this study show that alternate airways are not the answer’. As Lockey and Lossius comment, the latter point is a ‘strong and controversial statement’. The latter also make a number of additional important points, including confirmation that ‘although supraglottic devices are clearly not all equal, the highest performing devices have similar success to intubation without the high training burden and risks of oesophageal intubation’.

This leads in nicely to the second study discussed in their editorial:

Higher insertion success with the i-gel® supraglottic airway in out-of-hospital cardiac arrest: A randomised controlled trial.

 Lockey and Lossius introduce the study as follows:

‘Confirming the major difference between the performance of different supraglottic devices, and also published in this issue, is a pre-hospital randomised trial of the second generation i-gel™ device vs an LMA™. Significantly different success rates were demonstrated and the second generation device clearly outperformed the LMA™.’ The laryngeal mask compared to i-gel® in this study was the Portex® Soft Seal® device.

A first generation SAD has been described as a ‘simple airway tube’ and a second generation SAD as ‘incorporating specific design features to improve safety by protecting against regurgitation and aspiration’ (White, Cook and Stoddart)

The paper Lockey and Lossius refer to is a single centre, prospective parallel-group ‘open label’ randomised controlled trial (RCT) in which patients in cardiac arrest were allocated to either the Intersurgical i-gel® supraglottic airway or the Portex® Soft Seal® Laryngeal Mask. The primary outcome was successful insertion as determined by the paramedic who inserted the device.

Fifty-one patients were randomised. Three were not in cardiac arrest, so the final analysis reports on data from forty-eight patients. The Intersurgical i-gel® had an insertion success rate of 90% (18/20) compared to 57% (16/28) with the Portex® Soft Seal® (p=0.023). The authors concluded that:

‘The i-gel® supraglottic airway was associated with higher successful insertion rates in subjects with out-of-hospital cardiac arrest. The i-gel® supraglottic appears easier for paramedics to use and appears a suitable first line supraglottic airway for out-of-hospital cardiac arrest’.

As confirmed earlier, there was no data for i-gel® or a number of the other newer 2nd generation supraglotic airways in ‘An update of out of hospital airway management practices in the United States’ by Diggs et al. Evidence for one supraglottic airway should not be extrapolated to another device with different design characteristics, so their data is only relevant to those devices included.

The impact of airway management on quality of cardiopulmonary resuscitation: an observational study in patients during cardiac arrest

The third paper discussed by Lockey and Lossius is, ‘ The impact of airway management on quality of cardiopulmonary resuscitation: an observational study in patients during cardiac arrest’. This prospective observational study by Yeung et al enrolled 100 consecutive patients between 2008 and 2011 with the aim of determining the effect of advanced airway use, either an endotracheal tube (ET) or laryngeal mask airway (LMA) on the no flow ratio (NFR) and other measures of CPR quality. The control cohort was patients receiving only bag-mask ventilation. The results showed use of an advanced airway during in-hospital cardiac arrest was associated with improved no flow ratios. The primary reason for the improvement appears to be switching from a compression to ventilation ratio of 30:2 to continuous chest compressions and asynchronous ventilation. Further details can be accessed with the earlier link.

A particularly interesting aspect of this paper is the discussion section, where the uncertainties about the role of advanced airways in cardiac arrest are examined. Firstly there is uncertainty about whether ventilation is required at all in the early stages of cardiac arrest (the Yeung et al paper examined patients in the later stage of out-of-hospital or in-hospital cardiac arrest where some form of ventilation is required). They mention the studies from Arizona prioritising Cardio-Cerebral Resuscitation (CCR) over ventilation in the early stages of cardiac arrest.

The timing of airway intervention and any impact on interruptions in chest compressions are also likely to be important. There is discussion regarding interruptions in CPR and the link to reductions in coronary perfusion pressure and development of ventricular fibrillation (VF). The potential impact of supraglottic airways on carotid blood flow, dislodgement of LMAs and aspiration risk are also discussed. All important subjects.

In their editorial, Lockey and Lossius comment that, ‘This study is one of several that demonstrate potential improvements in quality indicators in resuscitation which may be in conflict with large studies with undifferentiated casemix and resuscitation techniques which generally question the value of advanced life support techniques in cardiac arrest or trauma patients.’


So where does all this new data leave us? Lockey and Lossius conclude that ‘Our interpretation of the currently available data on pre-hospital advanced airway management is that the risks and benefits need to be considered for every patient on scene with airway compromise. The management that results from this analysis will depend on the indications and condition of the patient as well as the skills and available interventions on scene.’ This is not entirely dissimilar to the statement in the European Resuscitation Council (ERC) guidelines for resuscitation 2010 in relation to airway management during cardiac arrest, which state that ‘There are no data supporting the routine use of any specific approach to airway management during cardiac arrest. The best technique is dependent on the precise circumstances of the cardiac arrest and the competence of the rescuer.’

With regard to SADs, Lockey and Lossius conclude:

‘The constant evolution of existing supraglottic airways and the introduction of new devices makes generalisation and performance assessment of these devices difficult, but the expanding dataset will hopefully ensure that only the highly performing devices will be used in future studies, thus making interpretation more straightforward’.

No doubt REVIVE#2 will provide some useful additional data in this regard and it is to be hoped that additional randomised controlled trials, similar to the study published by Middleton et al discussed here, will be conducted so the dataset continues to expand.


3 thoughts on “Pre-hospital airway management – the debate continues

  1. Good post, thanks. What is more urgently needed is a comparison of ETI and supraglottic airways to basic airway interventions (such as BVM). It is all good and well that one type of advanced airway does better in terms of survival than another advanced airway. But it seems that advanced airways might be worse than just plain old bag valve mask ventilation (see recent systematic review by Fouche et al in Prehospital and Emergency Care). So that is what we should be comparing, BVM versus ETI, or BVM versus supraglottic airways. See

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