A proposal for updating the classification of SADs and a new scoring system

The scoring and classification of supraglottic airways (SADs) is an interesting topic and currently the subject of much debate.

In 2011, a paper by Cook and Howes entitled, Recent developments in efficacy and safety of supraglottic airway devices, published in Continuing Education in Anaesthesia, Critical Care and Pain, described a classification of SADs into 1st and 2nd generation devices. The simplicity of this classification had immediate appeal and it quickly became established as the most widely used method for classifying SADs.

In A critique of elective pediatric supraglottic airway devices by White, Cook and Stoddart, a 1st generation device was described as asimple airway tube’ and 2nd generation as a device that ‘incorporates specific design features to improve safety by protecting against regurgitation and aspiration’.

Numerous publications, presentations and reviews subsequently utilised this classification, including the seminal  NAP4 report, the 4th National Audit Project of the Royal College of Anaesthetists (RCoA) and the Difficult Airway Society (DAS) on ‘Major Complications of Airway Management in the United Kingdom’, which made a number of recommendations regarding the use of SADs, and in particular the use of 2nd generation devices.

Its use has not been confined to the UK. The term is widely understood, accepted and used internationally. However, the classification of SADs as either 1st or 2nd generation was not the first classification.

In 2004, A Proposed Classification and Scoring System for Supraglottic Sealing Airways: A Brief Review by Miller was published in Anesthesia & Analgesia. This categorised SADs by the sealing mechanism. Three primary groups were identified:

  • Cuffed perilaryngeal sealers – such as the laryngeal mask airway
  • Cuffed pharyngeal sealers – such as the Cuffed Oropharyngeal Airway (COPA™)
  • Uncuffed anatomically preshaped sealers – such as i-gel®

This classification was further subdivided, so cuffless perilaryngeal sealers could be either ‘directional’ or ‘non-directional’, and cuffed pharyngeal sealers could be designated as ‘with’ or ‘without’ oesophageal sealing. The sealing mechanisms were described in detail, in conjunction with force vectors, frictional force and whether a device was reusable or single-use; or incorporated a mechanism to provide additional protection against aspiration.

In 2009, five years after Miller’s paper, the International standard, ISO 11712:2009(E) Anaesthetic and respiratory equipment – Supralaryngeal airways and connectors was published. This standard included five classifications of supralaryngeal designs. Further details can be obtained from my 2012 blog post on the classification of SADs.

Whatever their merits or limitations, neither the classification in the international standard or Miller’s classification from 2004 ever enjoyed the same measure of popularity or widespread use currently evident for the categorisation in to 1st and 2nd generation. It is therefore particularly interesting to note a proposal by the originator of the 1st/2nd generation classification, Professor Cook, for an update in correspondence to the editor of the British Journal of Anaesthesia (BJA).

The proposal is to add the suffix ‘i’ to 1st or 2nd generation to indicate those devices which enable intubation (eg with success >50%) and then include ‘d’ for direct intubation and ‘g’ for guided intubation. The correspondence provides three examples of SADs classified in this manner, as follows:

  • cLMA – 1st generation ‘ig’
  • Intubating LMA – 1st generation ‘id, ig’
  • i-gel® – 2nd generation ‘ig’

Further discussion regarding an updated classification can be seen on the BJA Out of the blue E-letters archive. Alternative classifications have been proposed, including one by Michalek and Miller in, ‘Airway Management Evolution – In a search for an ideal extraglottic airway device.

The scoring, as opposed to the classification of SADs, also has an interesting history. Miller proposed a ‘provisional scoring of airways’ in his 2003 paper already discussed above. This identified desirable features of airways for routine use and then for each variable (easy insertion, seal for IPPV etc) assigned a score to each device. An updated version, also by Miller, along similar lines, appeared in the second chapter of the book, The i-gel supraglottic airway, edited by Michalek and Donaldson.

The most recent scoring of SADs appeared in a particularly interesting editorial entitled, ‘Time to abandon the ‘vintage’ laryngeal mask airway and adopt second-generation supraglottic devices as first choice’ by Cook and Kelly.

This editorial notes that SADs now have important roles beyond airway maintenance during routine low-risk surgery, including airway maintenance in obese and higher risk patients and airway management outside the operating theatre by experts and novices, most especially during cardiac arrest. Other examples are also provided.

As a result, the authors state it is worth considering ‘whether one device can be the best device for all such functions and perhaps considering whether some devices might no longer be needed. This discussion raises the question as to whether the cLMA (and equivalent SADs) have any role in modern airway practice or whether it is time to move on.’

The editorial discusses a number of interesting and important issues related to the use of SADs, including the question of safety and efficacy, what sort of evidence should be sought when deciding which SAD to select – particularly if safety is the major concern – and the value and limitations of randomised controlled trials in answering safety related questions. Other issues of importance are also discussed, so it is critical the editorial is read in its entirety to fully appreciate the context in which the scoring system included in the paper is provided.

The scoring system itself lists the desirable features of a SAD (airway seal, overall insertion success, aspiration protection, avoiding sore throat etc) for a specific application (routine use during elective anaesthesia, use by a novice at a cardiac arrest etc), provides a maximal score for each parameter according to its importance and then allocates a score for each parameter for each device.

The authors confirm the ranking and allocated scores are based on their judgement, clinical experience and knowledge of the literature and also acknowledge that others may allocate maximal and relative scores differently.

I will not spoil your enjoyment of this editorial by revealing the results here, except to say the authors comment that, in the tables provided, it is notable that different circumstances lead to different SADs ranking highest and that ‘the cLMA rarely ranks highly in such analyses.’

The four scoring tables provided are as follows:

  • Table One: Choice of airway for routine use during elective anaesthesia
  • Table Two: Choice of airway for use by a novice at a cardiac arrest
  • Table Three: Choice of airway for expert rescue after failed intubation during rapid sequence induction
  • Table Four: Choice of airway for rescue after failed intubation followed by intubation through the SAD

In summary, a number of methods for classifying and scoring SADs have been proposed over the years. The most popular and widely used classification remains the categorisation of SADs as either 1st or 2nd generation. An update to this classification has been proposed to indicate those devices which enable intubation and a new scoring system has been published as part of an editorial in the BJA.

i-gel is a registered trademark of Intersurgical Ltd. cLMA is an abbreviation for the LMA Classic. LMA and LMA Classic are registered trademarks of Teleflex Incorporated or its affiliates. COPA is a trademark of Mallinckrodt Medical, Inc.

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Use of SADs in the prehospital setting – a new review

Ostermayer and Gausche-Hill, in their review paper, ‘Supraglottic airways: The history and current state of prehospital airway adjuncts’, to be published in Prehospital Emergency Care, provide a much welcome overview on the use of supraglottic airways (SADs) in what can often be a difficult and challenging setting.

The paper begins by confirming that the widespread adoption of SADs in prehospital care ‘directly stems from their ease of use, simplicity of training, predictability, and speed of insertion’. It continues with a brief history of the use of SADs, particularly the Laryngeal Mask Airway, in the prehospital setting and includes individual overviews of a number of devices, including the Combitube®, King LT®, LMA Fastrach® and Intersurgical i-gel®.

There is acknowledgement that whilst SADs do not, in the words of the authors, provide ‘definitive airway management’, some of the newer devices do incorporate higher seal pressures than earlier options and the ability for gastric decompression, which ‘may significantly decrease aspiration risk’.

In anaesthesia circles in particular, a new classification of SADs into 1st and 2nd generation devices has gained considerable popularity and helped to highlight important differences between devices. In a review article by White et al, entitled, ‘A critique of elective pediatric supraglottic airway devices’, a 1st generation device was described as a ‘simple airway tube’ and 2nd generation as a device that ‘incorporates specific design features to improve safety by protecting against regurgitation and aspiration.’

Of course, as mentioned in an earlier blog post on the classification of supraglottic airways, designation as a 2nd generation device does not in itself confirm superiority of performance, but the classification does provide useful information about basic product design characteristics, such as whether the device incorporates a mechanism for the management of regurgitant fluid. These are important considerations when deciding the most appropriate SAD to use in the pre-hospital setting.

Discussion on the use of airway devices in the austere environment states that data collection from Combat Support Hospitals in 2008 demonstrated that 86.3% of prehospital managed airways were managed with an Endotracheal tube (ETT), 7.2% with an Esophageal Tracheal Combitube (ETC) and 0.7% with an LMA, and that, ‘although the ETC is the standard rescue airway device for the U.S. Army, poor skill retention has been demonstrated with the device among medics.’

RSA or Rapid Sequence Airway placement, the insertion of an alternative airway, such as a SAD, after pharmacological treatment with a paralytic and sedative is discussed. This is an important subject and Ostermayer and Gausche-Hill confirm that no trials have yet compared the risks and benefits of drug-assisted SAD placement to non-drug-assisted placement.

The final section of the review takes a look at airway management in Out-of-Hospital Cardiac Arrest (OHCA). Of particular interest is a reference to a Japanese study which looked at neurological outcomes in patients where an ETT was used, compared to either a SAD or Bag Valve Mask (BVM). The results are interesting, but it is important when reviewing such studies to consider the SADs that were used. Results are likely to be quite different for 2nd generation SADs such as the i-gel, compared to a 1st generation device such as a standard Laryngeal Mask Airway. In some countries like the UK, devices such as the Combitube® are now rarely, if ever used. This issue is discussed in more depth in my blog post, ‘Pre-hospital airway management for patients with OHCA’.

There are a couple of small errors in the ‘early view’ version of this paper. For example, in Table 1, the i-gel® is designated as reusable, whereas the device is in fact single use. No doubt these errors will be corrected in the final published version.

In summary, this review paper provides an interesting overview of the history and current state of prehospital airway adjuncts. The conclusion will reflect the thoughts of many with regard to this subject:

‘Since prehospital airway management devices largely evolve from the field of anesthesia, much of the medical literature regarding new devices focuses on the operating room. With the many obvious practical and clinical differences between these clinical settings, further studies in the prehospital environment are needed, specifically trials correlating neurologic outcome to supraglottic device’

Equally important will be to ensure that results for one type of SAD are not extrapolated to another with quite different design characteristics. Tempting as it may be to discuss SADs as if they are one homogenous group of devices, the reality, as this paper helps to highlight, is that the performance of each device can and will be quite different. One SAD is most definitely not the same as another. Further data regarding the use of SADs in the prehospital setting is eagerly awaited.