Systemic Air Embolism after Lung Trauma
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Systemic air or gas embolism has been increasingly recognized as a complication of serious chest trauma and often presents with catastrophic circulatory and cerebral events. The classic findings are hemoptysis, sudden cardiac or cerebral dysfunction after initiation of PPV, air in retinal vessels, and air in arterial aspirations. The clinician must be wary of more subtle presentations. Several diagnostic tools (TEE, Doppler, CT) can detect intracardiac and cerebral air, but they may not be necessary to confirm the diagnosis of SAE. Cessation of SAE is essential for successful resuscitation. In those with unilateral lung injury, this can theoretically be achieved by isolating and ventilating the noninjured lung. Sole reliance on immediate thoracotomy for hilar clamping to stem the flow of gas emboli is a concept that needs to be challenged. Whether airway and ventilation interventions will eliminate, delay, or decrease the need for thoracotomy and improve the prognosis of SAE remains to be seen. There is little reported in the literature regarding such interventions. Airway management of a patient at risk for SAE should include a technique that can selectively ventilate each lung. Patients with bilateral sources of SAE may benefit from the avoidance of high airway pressures. Regional anesthesia should be considered when appropriate. HBOT is useful in managing cerebral air embolism and should be incorporated as soon as possible. Clinicians involved in trauma care must be familiar with SAE. By adopting a problem-based solution through innovative airway and ventilation management, anesthesiologists may significantly alter and improve the morbidity and mortality rate of SAE resulting from chest trauma.
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