Coronavirus (COVID-19) updates, visitor restrictions and resources →

Emergency airway puncture

  • Definition
    • Emergency airway puncture is the placement of a hollow needle through the throat into the airway. It is done to treat life-threatening choking.

  • Alternative Names
    • Needle cricothyrotomy

  • Description
    • Emergency airway puncture is done in an emergency situation, when someone is choking and all other efforts to assist with breathing have failed.

      • A hollow needle or tube can be inserted into the throat, just below the Adam's apple (cricoid cartilage), into the airway.
      • In a hospital, a small cut in the skin is made before inserting the needle.
  • Why the Procedure Is Performed
    • A cricothyrotomy is an emergency procedure to relieve an airway obstruction until surgery can be done to place a breathing tube (tracheostomy).

      If the airway blockage occurs with trauma to the head, neck, or spine, care must be taken to avoid further injury to the patient.

  • Risks
    • Risks for this procedure include:

      • Injury to the voice box (larynx), thyroid gland, or esophagus

      Risks for any surgery are:

      • Bleeding
      • Infection
  • Outlook (Prognosis)
    • How well the person does depends on the cause of the airway blockage and how quickly the person receives proper breathing support. Emergency airway puncture provides enough breathing support for only a very short period of time.

  • References
    • Hebert RB, Bose S, Mace SE. Cricothyrotomy and percutaneous translaryngeal ventilation. In: Roberts JR, ed. Clinical Procedures in Emergency Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2013:chap 6.

      Thomas SH, Goodloe JM. Foreign bodies. In: Marx J, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2013:chap 60.