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Correspondence  |   December 1999
The Three Axis Alignment Theory and the “Sniffing Position”: Perpetuation of an Anatomic Myth? 
Author Notes
  • Assistant Professor
  • Department of Anesthesiology
  • Hôpital Avicenne, University Paris XIII
  • Paris, France
  • Visiting Researcher
  • Toxicological Intensive Care Unit
  • INSERM U-26
  • Hôpital Fernand Widal
  • University Paris VII
  • Paris, France
  • Assistant Professor
  • Department of Anesthesiology
  • Hôpital Avicenne, University Paris XIII
  • Paris, France
  • Assistant Professor
  • Department of Anesthesiology
  • Hôpital Avicenne, University Paris XIII
  • Paris, France
Article Information
Correspondence
Correspondence   |   December 1999
The Three Axis Alignment Theory and the “Sniffing Position”: Perpetuation of an Anatomic Myth? 
Anesthesiology 12 1999, Vol.91, 1964. doi:
Anesthesiology 12 1999, Vol.91, 1964. doi:
To the Editor:
—A review of the classic anesthesiology literature reveals a common thread in the instructions for direct laryngoscopy: To successfully visualize the larynx, one must align three (oral, laryngeal, and pharyngeal) anatomic axes. 1–7 Placing a patient in the “sniffing position” is the accepted maneuver for aligning these axes.
Recently, we evaluated a radiograph obtained during intubation in the sniffing position, drew lines along the axes (fig. 1),
Fig. 1. Intubation in sniffing position. LA = laryngeal axis; MA = mouth axis; PA = pharyngeal axis. 
Fig. 1. Intubation in sniffing position. LA = laryngeal axis; MA = mouth axis; PA = pharyngeal axis. 
Fig. 1. Intubation in sniffing position. LA = laryngeal axis; MA = mouth axis; PA = pharyngeal axis. 
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and did not observe this alignment. We then reviewed the literature to understand the origin of this concept. The sniffing position has been credited to Chevalier Jackson in 1913, although he did not use this terminology or demonstrate alignment of the axes diagramatically. He simply suggested that the patient be placed on a pillow in a natural position with the head extended. 8 He went on to suggest that, in fact, the pillow might be removed, the thumbs placed on the forehead of the patient, and the forehead vigorously forced downward and backward, causing an anterior movement of the skull on the atlas and throwing the cervical vertebrae forward.
After this proposal by Jackson, numerous authors offered their modifications of the technique. However, the first (only?) authors to study the problem experimentally were Bannister and MacBeth, 9 whose frequently cited 1944 Lancet  article graphically demonstrates the alignment of the three axes by use of an added pillow beneath the occiput, thus flexing the neck. 9 The authors then propose that straightening the right angle formed by the axis of the mouth and the pharyngolaryngeal axis requires extension of the head on the atlantooccipital joint. They support their view with a series of drawings and radiographs. Although the authors’ drawings illustrate plainly that the axes may be brought into complete alignment, close examination of the radiographs shows that the drawing did not coincide with the radiograph. Whereas the hard palate is aligned with the larynx in the drawing, the angle of the larynx to the hard palate in the radiograph is roughly 36°. If one compares radiographs in the article, it becomes apparent that the laryngoscope shown in one radiograph (patient in sniffing position) is not in the mouth. Otherwise this patient would be missing all the upper incisors. Perhaps this is what was referred to previously in the article as “cooking” a diagram. In spite of this, the “three-axes rule” became reality.
It would appear to us that, although the sniffing position may provide the best laryngeal view, the explanation of the benefit of the sniffing position based on alignment of the three axes is an error perpetuated since 1944 that deserves reexamination.
References 
References 
Stoelting RK: Endotracheal intubation, Anesthesia. Edited by Miller RD. New York, Churchill Livingstone, 1986, pp 523–32
Finucane BT, Santora AH: Techniques of intubation, Airway Management. Edited by Finucane BT, Santora AH. St. Louis, Mosby, 1996, pp 161–86
Société Franĉaise d'Anesthésie et de Réanimation: Intubation difficile. Ann Fr Anesth Réanim 1996; 15: 207–14
Benumof JL: Conventional (laryngosocpic) orotracheal and nasotracheal intubation (single-lumen tube), Airway Management, Principles and Practices. Edited by Benumof JL. St Louis, Mosby, 1996, pp 261–76
Murrin KR: Causes of difficult intubation and intubation procedure, Difficulties in Tracheal Intubation. Edited by Latto IP, Vaughan RS. London, WB Saunders Company, 1997, pp 89–106
Schwartz DE, Wiener-Kronish JP: Management of difficult airway. Clin Chest Med 1991; 12: 483–95
Scott J: Oral endotracheal intubation, The Airway: Emergency Management. Edited by Dailey RH, Simon B, Young GP, Stewart RD. St. Louis, Mosby–Year Book, 1992, pp 73–91
Jackson C: The technique of insertion of intratracheal insufflation tubes. Surg Gynecol Obstet 1913; 17: 507–9
Bannister FB, Macbeth RG: Direct laryngoscopy and tracheal intubation. Lancet 1944; ii: 651–4
Fig. 1. Intubation in sniffing position. LA = laryngeal axis; MA = mouth axis; PA = pharyngeal axis. 
Fig. 1. Intubation in sniffing position. LA = laryngeal axis; MA = mouth axis; PA = pharyngeal axis. 
Fig. 1. Intubation in sniffing position. LA = laryngeal axis; MA = mouth axis; PA = pharyngeal axis. 
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