Focused airway ultrasound: an armamentarium in future airway management
Point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS) has gained the upper hand for being simple, non-invasive and portable. Traditional beliefs that ultrasound is futile in the imaging of air-filled structures has been refuted. Upper airway ultrasound is applicable to patients with distorted anatomy, not easily discernable by traditional methods, besides serving as a useful adjunct peri-intubation; as a pre-intubation screening tool for difficult laryngoscopy, selection of endotracheal tube (ETT) size and confirmation of ETT placement and depth, and to detect laryngeal mask airway (LMA) malrotation. Airway ultrasound also assists in procedural guidance for percutaneous cricothyroidotomy, percutaneous dilatational tracheostomy (PDT) and airway nerve blocks by improving success rate with fewer attempts and safety. In the critical care unit, sonographic parameters of the airway provide means to predict post extubation stridor hence successful extubation, in addition to identifying upper airway pathologies. The feasibility of focused airway ultrasound also lies in its shallow learning curve and the relative ease of mastering the skill with appropriate training. The integration of upper airway ultrasound into POCUS examination may be a prelude to a bigger picture in future airway management. Increasing awareness of the practicality of this tool, availability in critical areas and improving technological advancements will encourage more usage resulting in its incorporation into routine clinical practice.