Role of Conservative Medical Management of Tracheobronchial Injuries

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Background:The purpose of this study is to describe and assess the effectiveness of conservative treatment as the chosen treatment for tracheobronchial injury (TBI) management. This is a retrospective and descriptive study, which took place at a single center.Methods:From January 1993 to July 2004, 33 TBIs were treated in our hospital. Eighteen (54.5%) were iatrogenic injuries and 15 (45.5%) were traumatic noniatrogenic injuries. Eighteen (55%) of the TBI patients were women and 15 (45.5%) were men, with a mean age of 46.7 ± 23.4 years (range, 14–88 years). Eighteen (54.5%) of the injuries were caused by orotracheal intubation or tracheostomy, 13 (39.4%) by blunt trauma, and 2 (6.1%) by penetrating tracheal injuries. The average diagnostic delay was 18.29 ± 19.8 hours. The mean injury size was 2.6 ± 1.3 cm (range, 1–7 cm). Fourteen (42.4%) injuries were located in the cervical trachea, 8 (24.2%) in the thoracic trachea, 10 (30.3%) in the bronchi, and 1 (3%) involved both trachea and the main bronchi. Conservative treatment was applied in 20 (60.6%) of the 33 cases. Surgery should be performed in cases of esophageal-associated injuries, progressive subcutaneous or mediastinal emphysema, severe dyspnea requiring intubation, difficulty with mechanical ventilation, pneumothorax with an air leak through the chest drains, or mediastinitis.Results:Conservative medical or surgical treatments achieved good outcomes in 28 (84.8%) cases. Five patients (15.2%) died while in the hospital; 4 of these were medically treated and 1 was surgically treated. Mortality was related to older patients and patients that had been diagnosed during mechanical ventilation. Major symptoms (progressive subcutaneous emphysema, dyspnea, sepsis) were detected more often in cartilaginous injuries (p < 0.05). Conservative treatment was considered more effective in membranous injuries (p < 0.05), and these sorts of injuries were not related to a high mortality rate (p > 0.05). Mortality was not related to conservative treatment, sex, diagnostic delay, injury mechanism, location, or length of the TBI (p < 0.05).Conclusions:Conservative treatment for TBI is effective regardless of the mechanism of production, length, or site of the injury. Conservative treatment should be carefully assessed in patients who meet strict selection criteria. Membranous injuries can be treated more often with a conservative approach, however, cartilaginous injuries should be treated surgically if major symptoms are detected.

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