Flail Mandible and Immediate Airway Management: Traumatic Detachment of Mandibular Lingual Cortex Results in Obstructive Dyspnea and Severe Odynophagia

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Isolated mandibular fractures usually represent themselves as non-life-threatening injuries and are not treated in emergency setting. However, some rare patterns of them may result in airway obstruction as a result of displacement of bony fragments. The authors report a patient of an open comminuted fracture of mandibular symphysis which exhibited an uncommon split pattern with retrogression of lingual cortical plate, and thereby induced glossoptosis, painful deglutition, and obstruction of the upper airway within a few hours. The patient underwent immediate intubation for establishing a definitive airway, followed by open reduction and internal fixation of fracture. Surgical airway management was not needed. Anatomic reduction of the fracture was achieved, by reestablishing the patency of upper airway and resolving the painful deglutition. Patient's occlusion and mouth opening returned to the preinjury status. Timely osteosynthesis surgery offered early relief of patient's signs and symptoms, prevented airway complications and development of traumatic mandibular osteomyelitis, as well as obviated the potential need for surgical airway management. The appropriate management of mandibular fractures placing the airway at risk requires immediate diagnosis based on knowledge of specific clinical and radiographic findings. This case emphasizes that emergency clinicians should be able to distinguish those patients who will need airway securing techniques in emergent or prophylactic context, due to an uncommon fracture pattern of facial skeleton. Moreover, emergency clinicians should be conversant with wiring techniques to achieve stabilization of the mandibular framework and to control the pain, hemorrhage, and airway patency.

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