The occurrence of aspiration pneumonia after emergency endotracheal intubation

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Abstract

Study objective

Adverse events, including aspiration, occur during Emergency Department (ED) intubation, but their contemporary incidence is not well described. We sought to estimate the rate of aspiration pneumonia potentially related to emergency intubation.

Methods

We conducted a prospective observational study of adult patients who were endotracheally intubated in the ED. Using a standard definition, we determined the proportion of patients who developed aspiration pneumonia after intubation. Aspiration pneumonia was defined as any of the following in patients without a diagnosis of community acquired pneumonia, healthcare-associated pneumonia, or aspiration prior to intubation: pathogenic growth in sputum culture, unexplained hypoxemia, or radiographic evidence of pneumonia in the first 48 h after intubation. Baseline characteristics and intubation details were compared for those with and without aspiration pneumonia.

Results

879 patients were enrolled over a 30-month period. Intubation was facilitated by video laryngoscopy (49%), direct laryngoscopy (45%), nasal intubation (4%), a intubating laryngeal mask airway (1%), and a surgical airway (0.1%). 85% were intubated on the first attempt, 12% on the second, 3% on the third or more attempts. 25% of patients experienced an oxygen saturation < 90% during the intubation. After excluding patients not eligible for the outcome assessment (those who died within 48 h without findings of pneumonia), 66/823 (8%) developed aspiration pneumonia potentially related to ED intubation. In comparing those with and without aspiration pneumonia, there were no differences between first intubation attempt parameters and the occurrence of aspiration pneumonia.

Conclusion

Aspiration pneumonia occurred commonly in this cohort. Although we did not identify any intubation factors that differed between those with and without with aspiration pneumonia, these findings should remind emergency physicians that emergency endotracheal intubation remains a high-risk procedure, and all care should be taken to minimize the risk of peri-intubation complications.

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