Correspondence  |   September 2005
Cricothyroidotomy: Do Not Compare Small Apples to Big Oranges
Author Affiliations & Notes
  • Pavel Dulguerov, M.D., P.D.
  • *Geneva University Hospital, Geneva, Switzerland.
Article Information
Correspondence   |   September 2005
Cricothyroidotomy: Do Not Compare Small Apples to Big Oranges
Anesthesiology 9 2005, Vol.103, 667. doi:
Anesthesiology 9 2005, Vol.103, 667. doi:
To the Editor:—
Schaumann et al.  1 are to be congratulated for a nice study regarding cricothyroidotomy. The duration and complications of cricothyroidotomy performed by emergency physicians in cadavers was evaluated. They specifically compared a surgical technique and the Arndt cricothyroidotomy set. As in a previous study from the same institution, the assessment of the cutaneous–tracheal tract by a pathologist is a valuable methodologic aspect. However, we have to disagree with their conclusions because of several methodologic problems.
The most important methodologic issue, which should be obvious to someone familiar with tracheostomy,2 is that a cuffed tracheostomy tube was used in the surgical group, whereas the canula in the Arndt cricothyroidotomy set is without a cuff. A cuffed canula, although much better for ventilation, is much more difficult to insert. In addition, the canula provided in the Arndt set is of a smaller diameter, an ID of 3 mm versus  5 mm for the Mallinckrodt tracheostomy tube. It is easier to insert a smaller, smooth object into tissues, and I doubt that many anesthesiologists will find the ventilation through a 3-mm tube to be equivalent to that through a 5-mm tube¡
A second related question is the additional 70% of time spent for the connection of the ventilation equipment (10.1 s in the Seldinger technique group and 17.4 s in the surgical technique group) in the surgical cricothyroidotomy group. Because in both cases the tracheal tubes used ended with a connection piece specifically made to fit standard ventilation equipment, our unique potential explanation is that time is taken to inflate the cuff. The authors do not discuss this difference in the text, and a thorough explanation seems necessary.
Probably the most bothersome aspect of this study is the way the authors interpret the failures of the trials. In the Seldinger group, there were seven cases that were classified unsuccessful, to which should be added four cases where the tube was found by the pathologist in the subcutaneous tissues. To our knowledge, placing the tube in front of the trachea can hardly be considered as a successful placement allowing ventilation. Therefore, the failures in this group amount to 11.8% (11 of 93), which should be compared with a failure rate of 6.4% (6 of 94) in the open cricothyroidotomy group. A simple statistical test shows this difference to be highly significant. Contrary to what might be argued by the authors, the injury of vessels is rare in the area of the cricothyroid membrane and is far less important than the misplacement of the canula.
Another point of lesser importance is the use of the “Viennese tracheal dilator” in the surgical cricothyroidotomy. We doubt that most of the readers of Anesthesiology  are familiar with this tool, and without any further description, it is unclear why such a dilator would provide any advantage over classic surgical tracheal–laryngeal hooks for spreading of the tissue. What it certainly does is increase the time spent for the insertion of the endotracheal tube and ventilation, the two main outcomes the authors chose to evaluate.
Finally, it is surprising that in a randomized study, the cadavers were significantly heavier and with larger necks in the surgical group. Stating that “the differences in weight and circumference of the neck were not clinically relevant” is either frivolous or represent a misunderstanding of the risk factors for this operation.
In conclusion, this study, which seems exemplary at first glance, suffers from major methodologic flaws. Doubling of the failure rates should be an obvious reason to prefer a procedure, especially when a failure for cricothyroidotomy means a probable death for the patient. Overlooking these data and basing the conclusion on the duration of the procedure seems bewildering. Furthermore, these delays (time to tube insertion and time to first ventilation), although seeming objective, are somewhat subjective because they were performed by an unblinded and hopefully unbiased observer.
*Geneva University Hospital, Geneva, Switzerland.
Schaumann N, Lorenz V, Schellongowski P, Staudinger T, Locker GJ, Burgmann H, Pikula B, Hofbauer R, Schuster E, Frass M: Evaluation of Seldinger technique emergency cricothyroidotomy versus standard surgical cricothyroidotomy in 200 cadavers. Anesthesiology 2005; 102:7–11Schaumann, N Lorenz, V Schellongowski, P Staudinger, T Locker, GJ Burgmann, H Pikula, B Hofbauer, R Schuster, E Frass, M
Gysin C, Dulguerov P, Guyot JP, Perneger TV, Abajo B, Chevrolet JC: Percutaneous versus surgical tracheostomy: A double-blind randomized trial. Ann Surg 1999; 230:708–14Gysin, C Dulguerov, P Guyot, JP Perneger, TV Abajo, B Chevrolet, JC