Airway Assessment for Trauma Patients
Airway injury remains a leading cause of early mortality in patients with trauma. Despite its rarity, direct traumatic airway injury and tracheobronchial injury (TBI) pose significant challenges for emergency clinicians, with an estimated incidence of 0.5–2% among trauma patients. Blunt or penetrating injuries to the head, oropharynx, neck, or upper chest can result in immediate or delayed airway blockage. Trauma can cause airway obstruction by itself or by blood clots, tissue edema, or gastric contents clogging the airway lumen. The added complexity of associated spinal injuries further underscores the need for precise and timely airway assessment.
In the context of trauma patients, a fundamental aspect of care involves prompt airway assessment. The Advanced Trauma Life Support (ATLS) algorithm, a cornerstone in trauma care, outlines a systematic approach focusing on a sequential assessment and management of Airway, Breathing, Circulation, Disability, and Exposure (ABCDE), as part of the initial evaluation of the injured individual. While adapted for battle and disaster environments, the ATLS algorithm consistently emphasizes the timely assessment and treatment of life-threatening airway and breathing issues before shifting focus to circulation problems. The CAB sequence has become more widely embraced in the last ten years, surpassing the airway-breathing-circulation (ABC) model for individuals with serious bleeding injuries. When bleeding is severe or life-threatening, prioritizing control of the bleeding takes precedence over interventions related to airway and breathing․