Head and Neck Position for Direct Laryngoscopy

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The sniffing position (SP) has traditionally been considered the optimal head position for direct laryngoscopy (DL). Its superiority over other head positions, however, has been questioned during the last decade. We reviewed the scarce literature on the subject to examine the evidence either in favor or against the routine use of the SP. A standard definition for the position should be used (e.g., 35° neck flexion and 15° head extension) to avoid confusion about what constitutes a proper SP and to compare the results from different studies. Although several theories were proposed to explain the superiority of the SP, the three axes alignment theory is still considered a valid anatomical explanation. Although head elevation is needed to achieve the desired neck flexion, the elevation height may vary from one patient to another depending on head and neck anatomy and size of the chest. In infants and small children, for example, no head elevation is needed because the size and shape of the head allow axes approximation in the head-flat position. Horizontal alignment of the external auditory meatus with the sternum, in both obese and non-obese patients, indicates, and can be used as a marker for, proper positioning. Analysis of the available literature supports the use of the SP for DL. To achieve a proper SP in obese patients, the “ramped” (or the back-up) position should be used. The SP does not guarantee adequate exposure in all patients, because many other anatomical factors control the final degree of visualization. However, it should be the starting head position for DL because it provides the best chance at adequate exposure. Attention to details during positioning and avoidance of minor technical errors are essential to achieve the proper position. DL should be a dynamic procedure and position adjustment should be instituted in case poor visualization is encountered in the SP.

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