Three-finger tracheal palpation to guide endotracheal tube depth in children.

Abstract

BACKGROUND Accurate endotracheal tube (ETT) depth is critical, especially in children. The current tools used to guide appropriate ETT depth have significant limitations. OBJECTIVES To evaluate the utility of tracheal palpation in the neck to guide appropriate ETT placement in children. METHODS A prospective observational study with a convenience sample of 50 children was conducted. During intubation, an investigator palpated the trachea with three fingertips side-by-side extending upward from the suprasternal notch. The anesthesiologist advanced the ETT slowly until palpated at the sternal notch. The investigator stated ETT palpation certainty as 'strongly felt', 'weakly felt', or 'not felt.' Final ETT position was determined by bronchoscopy and categorized as 'ETT too shallow' (tip in proximal ¼ of trachea), 'ETT too deep' (tip in distal ¼ of trachea), or 'ETT placement satisfactory' (between those extremes). RESULTS Thirty boys and 20 girls undergoing dental surgery with nasal intubation were recruited (median age 4.4 years; range 2.0-10.8). The ETT (all ≥4 mm ID) was palpable at the sternal notch in all patients: 46 of 50 strongly palpable and 4 of 50 weakly palpable. The experimental methods led to satisfactory ETT placement in 49 of 50 patients, too deep in 1 of 50 patients. Compared with the Pediatrics Advanced Life Support (PALS) predictive formula, satisfactory placement would have been 41 of 50 patients (P < 0.008). Number needed to treat is 6.3 for improvement over the PALS method. CONCLUSIONS The use of tracheal palpation to guide ETT placement has excellent clinical performance and better guides appropriate ETT depth than the PALS formula in our study population.

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