Arthur Guedel and the oropharyngeal airway

One-piece Guedel

Any definitive history of the development of the oropharyngeal airway (OPA) is likely to include reference to Arthur Guedel and the OPA he described in a short article entitled, ‘A nontraumatic pharyngeal airway’ published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in 1933. In little more than a dozen lines he described a device which today is almost synonymous with the term oropharyngeal airway.

Although Joseph Thomas Clover (1825-1882) is credited with first use of an artificial airway, as this was a nasopharnygeal device, it is Sir Frederic William Hewitt (1857-1916) who is usually acknowledged as being first to describe the use of an oropharyngeal airway, in an article entitled ‘An artificial air-way for use during anaesthetisation’, published in The Lancet in 1908.

Hewitt was appointed as anaesthetist to King Edward VII in 1901. He was also a founding member of the Society of Anaesthetists in London and was made a member of the Royal Victorian Order (4th class) in 1902 for personal service to the King. The Frederick Hewitt Lecture was inaugurated by the Royal College of Surgeons (now the Royal College of Anaesthetists), in 1950. Fittingly, the lecture is now given biennially with the Joseph Clover Lecture – two pioneers of airway management appropriately acknowledged for their contribution to anaesthesia and airway management. The names of those anaesthetists who have delivered a Hewitt or Clover lecture reads like a roll call of anaesthetic icons, and includes Sir Ivan Magill, Sir Robert Macintosh, Gordon Jackson Rees and Brian Sellick.

Hewitt and the airway he designed are discussed in a historical note published in Anaesthesia by RP Haridas entitled, ‘The Hewitt airway – the first known artificial oral ‘air-way’ 101 years since its description’. The original airway incorporated a straight rubber tube, but a curved version was later developed. Brimacombe described the Hewitt airway as the forerunner to many modern oropharyngeal airways (Laryngeal Mask Anesthesia. Principles & Practice. Elsevier Ltd. 2nd edition. 2005).

Hewitt was undoubtedly an anaesthetic giant of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, yet his contribution to anaesthesia and airway management may be less immediately well known than that of Arthur Guedel.

Maltby confirms in ‘Notable Names in Anaesthesia’ that Arthur Guedel was born in Cambridge City, Indiana in 1883. Despite losing three fingers when he was a teenager, Guedel still managed to become an accomplished pianist and composer! His medical career started at the Medical College of Indiana in 1903. After graduating in 1908, he was interned at the City Hospital in Indianapolis where he was required to administer ether and chloroform. He eventually served as an anaesthetist in the American Expeditionary Forces in France in World War One, where the challenges faced by inexperienced personnel from the army medical corps provided the impetus to develop a classification of the stages of anaesthesia.

Guedel also created the first inflatable cuffs for ET tubes, experimenting with location, above, below or at the vocal cords, cuff pressures and possible inflation techniques. Around this time, Guedel would often use his own pet dog, appropriately named ‘Airway’, as part of his lecture demonstrations. Maltby confirms that Airway survived to enjoy ‘an honourable retirement with the Waters family in Madison, Wisconsin.’ A glance at the content of Guedel’s lecture demonstrations from the 1920s suggests that Airway’s survival to retirement was by no means a foregone conclusion and can itself be considered an achievement.

The recipient of the dog, Ralph Waters, wrote a personal tribute to his friend Arthur Guedel in the BJA in 1953 as part of the ‘Eminent Anaesthetists’ series. He confirmed that the saying, ‘If a man loves dogs he will love mankind’ was true of Guedel. He discusses their correspondence, at its most prolific between 1925 to 1945, his athleticism, and his motto for many years, ‘Maintain Flying Speed’, taken from the pilot of the time whose altitude began to fail as his forward progress diminished. Interestingly, he makes no mention of the oropharyngeal airway for which Guedel is perhaps most often remembered today.

Guedel originally described his oropharyngeal airway in JAMA as follows: ‘The airway herewith depicted is made of rubber and is sufficiently soft and flexible not to traumatize yet amply rigid to maintain an open oropharyngeal air passage under all conditions.’ He also confirmed that ‘the metal insert extends into the airway for about 2cm from the oral opening and prevents collapse of the rubber between the teeth’.

Thomas Baskett, in his 2004 article on Guedel published in Resuscitation, quoted Guedel’s own 1937 publication, ‘Inhalational Anesthesia: A Fundamental Guide’, describing use of the oropharyngeal airway during anaesthesia when ‘there is sufficient muscular relaxation to permit the lower jaw to fall backward allowing the base of the tongue to lie against the posterior wall of the pharynx. Depending upon the anatomical structure of the pharynx, this may partially or completely obstruct inspiration. It is usually remedied at once by the insertion of a pharyngeal airway which will hold the tongue forward from the pharyngeal wall.’

Dorsch and Dorsch in ‘Understanding Anesthesia Equipment (5th edition)’, describe an oropharyngeal airway as follows ‘…..may be made of elastomeric material or plastic. It has a flange at the buccal end to prevent it from moving deeper into the mouth. The flange may also serve as a means to fix the airway in place. The bite portion is straight and fits between the teeth or gums. It must be firm enough that the patient cannot close the lumen by biting. The curved portion extends backward to correspond to the shape of the tongue and palate.’

The International Standard ISO 5364: 2008 ‘Anaesthetic and respiratory equipment – oropharyngeal airways’ describes an oropharyngeal airway as a ‘device intended to maintain a gas pathway through the oral cavity and pharynx’. It confirms the size should be designated by the nominal length expressed in centimetres and provides a table to show how the length should be calculated. A table is provided confirming designated size (nominal length) , as well as tolerances and minimum inside dimensions. The latter is relevant to the ability to pass other devices, such as a suction catheter, through the airway.

The European Resuscitation Council (ERC) Guidelines for Resuscitation 2010 confirm that ‘An estimate of the size required is obtained by selecting an airway with a length corresponding to the vertical distance between the patient’s incisors and the angle of the jaw.’

The original Guedel airway was made of rubber with a metal insert. Most modern Guedel airways are made of plastic. Dorsch and Dorsch confirm that modifications to aid flexible fibreoptic intubation have been described and Guedel airways with the bite block incorporated into one moulding, thereby eliminating the danger of loose or detached bite blocks, are also available.

The Guedel airway has endured the test of time and remains one of most widely known and used airway adjuncts eighty years after it was first described. It is of simple design, but many of the best inventions often are.


The bougie – is it immortal?

Despite the technique of using an introducer to facilitate intubation being described over 65 years ago, the bougie, or tracheal tube introducer, remains a popular airway adjunct. With the development of more hi-tech aids to manage the airway, such as video laryngoscopes, is the demise of the bougie imminent or is it destined for immortality?

As Dr J J Henderson confirmed in correspondence entitled, ‘Development of the gum-elastic bougie’ – published in Anaesthesia in 2003, although Robert Reynolds Macintosh, who designed the Macintosh Laryngoscope – described by Sir Anthony Jephcott  as, ‘the most numerously and widely made durable item in the history of anaesthesia’ – is usually given credit for the first use of introducers to facilitate tracheal intubation, the technique was described a year earlier by Minnitt & Gillies in their ‘Textbook of Anaesthetics’, published by E & S Livingstone Ltd in 1948.

Dr Henderson confirms that in relation to passage of a tracheal tube with the Macintosh laryngoscope, the Minnitt & Gillies publication suggested, ‘This is an easy matter when a semi-rigid gum elastic catheter is passed’. 

 Sir Robert Macintosh (1897 – 1989), knighted in 1955, described the technique in his landmark illustrated 1949 article entitled, ‘An aid to oral intubation’ as follows:

 ‘One of the difficulties in passing tubes beyond a certain size is that the body of the tube obscures the view of the cords through which the tip must be directed. In order to overcome this I thread the tube over a long gum-elastic catheter, the tip of which is then passed through the cords under direct vision. Using the catheter as a guide, the tube is gently pushed down into position and the guide is then withdrawn.’

A few years later in 1952, responding to correspondence from a Dr Rook, Barnard (Anaesthesia 1952;7:119) described a technique he found of practical value when for any reason intubation proved difficult:

‘A small gum-elastic bougie is pushed through the Magill’s tube until about two inches extend beyond the distal end. The bougie is then bent forwards at an angle of 45 degrees or less. A Macintosh’s laryngoscope is passed and the bougie is passed through the larynx. The Magill’s tube is then passed well into the trachea and the bougie is removed’.

Use was not widespread until after the introduction of the Endotracheal Tube Introducer by Eschmann Bros & Walsh Ltd in the 1970s. This device incorporated a coudé tip, one of a number of differences to the device originally described by Macintosh in 1949. Dr Venn, who designed the device whilst working as an anaesthetic advisor to Eschmann, has described the development of the bougie in correspondence published in Anaesthesia in 1993 and the story was expanded further by Dr Henderson, from additional information provided by Dr Venn, in an article entitled, ‘Development of the gum-elastic bougie’ published in the same journal ten years later.

One irony is, as El-Orbany et al noted in Anesthesiology in 2004, the Eschmann Tracheal Tube Introducer is not gum, elastic or a bougie. The gum elastic bougie was originally a urinary catheter designed for dilation of urethral strictures. The material of the Eschmann device was different in that it had two layers: a core of tube woven from polyester threads and an outer resin layer. Other differences were the length, longer at 60cm, to allow the railroading of an endotracheal tube and the ‘presence of a 35 degree curved tip, permitting it to be steered around obstacles’.

Since its introduction, the bougie, or tracheal tube introducer, has grown in popularity, and whilst an equipment list for management of the difficult airway might include a number of different types of devices and airway adjuncts, such as alternative styles of rigid laryngoscope blades, supraglottic airways, video laryngoscopes and flexible fibreoptic intubation equipment, it is also likely to include some form of tracheal tube introducer or guide – single use or reusable.

The Difficult Airway Society (DAS) 2005 list of recommended equipment for routine airway management includes a ‘Tracheal tube introducer (gum-elastic-bougie)’ and an ‘Introducer (bougie)’ is included as part of ‘Plan A: Initial tracheal intubation plan’ in the DAS algorithm for ‘Unanticipated difficult tracheal intubation – during routine induction of anaesthesia in an adult patient’. Intubating bougies are also mentioned in the section on Recommendations for Extubation in the ‘Practice Guidelines for Management of the Difficult Airway’ , an updated report by the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) Task Force on Management of the Difficult Airway, published in 2013.

Single use alternatives from a variety of manufacturers have been available for a number of years, and the Association of Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland (AAGBI) Safety Guideline document, Infection Control in Anaesthesia, published in 2008, states:

Bougies: ‘Re-use of these items has been associated with cross-infection. Manufacturers recommend that a gum elastic bougie may be disinfected up to five times between patients and stored in a sealed packet. It is preferable that alternative single-use intubation aids are employed where possible.’

Even a cursory search of the published literature relating to tracheal tube introducers produces literally hundreds of studies, case reports and correspondence, comparing different types of introducers and a variety of potential extended applications, as well as the effects of sterilisation on multi-use devices, (Anaesthesia, 2011, 66, pages 1134 – 1139), and the forces required to remove bougies from tracheal tubes (Anaesthesia, 2009, 64, pages 320 – 322). There is even a report, published in Anaesthesia in 2007, regarding a home-made bougie. A quite alarming story in this modern age of device regulation, the author describes fashioning a bougie in Indonesia from a wire coat hanger and an ordinary giving set whilst waiting for a bougie to arrive from England! The author used the device on more than 40 occasions, commenting that, ‘In four patients I do not think I would have been able to intubate the trachea without it.’

It seems the bougie continues to be perceived as a useful airway adjunct for the persistent epiglottis-only view, but as Dr Richard Levitan has described in his overview of the Bougie (Tube Introducer), ‘The bougie is not a heat seeking missile, i.e., it does not ‘find’ the trachea automatically; laryngeal landmarks, i.e. the epiglottis at a minimum, or preferably the posterior cartilages must be sighted to place the bougie in the trachea.’

Given that many airway conferences now often include a debate comparing direct laryngoscopy to video laryngoscopy and provocatively ask whether the days of the standard laryngoscope are numbered, it is interesting that even those who feel the value of a bougie may sometimes be overstated, do not seem to suggest the bougie is in imminent danger of being consigned to the history books as a relic of anaesthesia practice from days gone by. Perhaps the bougie is immortal?

Cricoid pressure – new data from the USA

As a postscript to my previous post on the use of cricoid pressure during RSI, I have just seen this abstract of a survey conducted in the United States regarding a modified RSII, entitled, Modified Rapid Sequence Induction and Intubation: A Survey of United States Current Practice. I have not seen the complete article yet, but the abstract seems to confirm cricoid pressure as one of three key components of a modified RSII, along with oxygen administration before induction and an attempt to ventilate the patient’s lungs before securing the airway. As the authors comment themselves, ‘Although this definition seems intuitively obvious, no previous work has tested whether it is commonly accepted’.

490 surveys were received from 58 institutions. 93% of respondents reported using a modified RSII. A majority of respondents (71%, CL: 63%-77%) reported administering oxygen before anesthesia induction, applying cricoid pressure, and attempting to ventilate the lungs via a facemask before securing the airway.

Staying with the United States, albeit via a UK report, it was noted in the UK 4th National Audit Project (NAP4) that the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) Closed Claims Practice Group reported that cricoid force was ‘used’ in half of claims relating to aspiration. Claims for aspiration in which cricoid pressure was applied were settled for lower awards than those where it was omitted.

Interestingly, one of the recommendations in NAP4 related to RSI was as follows, ‘On balance, rapid sequence induction should continue to be taught as a standard technique for protection of the airway. Further focused research might usefully be performed to explore its efficacy, limitations and also explore the consequences of its omission.’

No doubt the debate about RSI and cricoid pressure will continue…

No European consensus – cricoid pressure during RSI

Cricoid pressure was first described by Brian Arthur Sellick in 1961. Since then, it has been an integral component of Rapid Sequence Induction (RSI) in the UK.

The merits of cricoid pressure have been the subject of lively debate for some time, since it is not entirely clear it provides any benefit. In addition, use of cricoid pressure has implications for tracheal intubation and insertion of supraglottic airways. It can also be poorly taught and poorly applied, leaving it unclear whether any issues are due to limitations with the technique itself, inadequate training, or it simply being too difficult to apply it correctly on a consistent basis even when well trained. However, in the 4th UK National Audit Project (NAP4), ‘Major complications of airway management in the UK’, there were no cases where cricoid force was reported as leading to major complications.

I therefore read with interest a ‘Survey on controversies in airway management among anaesthesiologists in the UK, Austria and Switzerland’, which, in one of three questions, asked 266 anaesthetists from three European countries ‘When do you use cricoid pressure?

96% of those surveyed from the UK confirmed they used cricoid pressure for RSI. No surprises there. The surprise was this was not replicated with the anaesthetists from Austria and Switzerland. Only 52% from Austria and 30% from Switzerland confirmed they used cricoid pressure for RSI. In addition, 40% of the Austrian anaesthetists and 49% of the Swiss replied they never used cricoid pressure.

Of course, the authors of this survey confirmed the limitations of their results, and expressed the hope that a large multi-national European study would be conducted to establish a broader picture of airway management habits in Europe.

So is the UK the last bastion of cricoid pressure in Europe? Looks like we will have to wait for the above mentioned survey to find out.