Expiratory Upper Airway Obstruction Caused by the Soft Palate during Bag-Mask Ventilation


Introduction: Expiratory upper airway obstruction during bag-mask ventilation is not well characterized. Methods: An audit was done to assess expiratory obstruction in 90 adult surgical patients undergoing bag-mask ventilation during the induction of general anaesthesia. Results: Clinicians experienced difficulty delivering gas to the lungs when the head was neutral in 52 of 90 patients (58%; inspiratory obstruction) but this problem was corrected by head tilt and chin lift in all but 2 patients. Clinicians experienced difficulty recovering gas from the lungs when the mouth was held closed under the mask in 30 of the remaining 88 patients (34%; expiratory obstruction). This problem persisted despite head tilt and chin lift in all but one patient but was uniformly corrected by opening the mouth. Inspection of the soft palate revealed that it was lying on the posterior pharyngeal wall in 27 of 30 patients with expiratory obstruction and that the retropalatal space was patent in 55 of 58 patients without expiratory obstruction (χ2, P < 0.001). The clinical predictors of expiratory upper airway obstruction included advanced age, large tongue, and large uvula. Conclusion: Expiratory airway obstruction should be suspected in all cases of difficult mask ventilation that cannot be corrected by head tilt and chin lift. Simply allowing the mouth to open between positive pressure breaths will permit gas to exit the lungs.

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C. W. Buffington, C. M. Q. Wells and R. J. Soose, "Expiratory Upper Airway Obstruction Caused by the Soft Palate during Bag-Mask Ventilation," Open Journal of Anesthesiology, Vol. 2 No. 2, 2012, pp. 38-43. doi: 10.4236/ojanes.2012.22010.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


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