Tag Archives: needle decompression

Advanced Needle Thoracostomy

In the past, I’ve written about the merits of needle vs finger thoracostomy. One of the arguments against needle thoracostomy is that it may not reach into the chest cavity in obese patients. As I mentioned yesterday, use the right needle!

Obviously, the one on top isn’t going to get you very far. The bottom one (10 gauge 3 inch) should get into most pleural spaces.

But what if you don’t have the right needle? Or what if the patient is massively obese and the longer needle won’t even reach? Pushing harder may seem logical, but it doesn’t work. You might be able to get the needle to reach to the pleural space, but the catheter won’t stay in it.

Here’s the trick. First, make the angiocatheter longer by hooking it up to a small (5 or 10cc) syringe. Now prep the chest over your location of choice (2nd intercostal space, mid-clavicular line or 5th intercostal space, anterior axillary line) and make a skin incision slightly larger than the diameter of the syringe. Now place the syringe and attached needle into the chest via your incision. It is guaranteed to reach the pleura, because you can now get the hub of the catheter down to the level of the ribs. Just don’t forget to pull out the catheter once you’ve placed the chest tube!

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The Right Way to Treat Tension Pneumothorax

Tension pneumothorax is an uncommon but potentially lethal manifestation of chest injury. An injury to the lung occurs that creates a one-way valve effect, allowing a small amount of air to escape with every breath. Eventually the volume becomes so large as to cause the lung and mediastinum to push toward the other side, with profound hypotension and cardiovascular collapse.

The classic clinical findings are:

  • Hypotension
  • Decreased or absent breath sounds on the affected side
  • Hyperresonance to percussion
  • Shift of the trachea away from the affected side
  • Distended neck veins

You should never diagnose a tension pneumothorax with a chest xray or CT scan, because the diagnosis is a clinical one and the patient may die while these procedures are carried out. Having said that, here’s one:

image

The arrow points to the completely collapsed lung. Note the trachea bowing to the right.

As soon as the diagnosis is made, the right thing to do is to “needle the chest.” A large bore angiocath should be placed in the second intercostal space, mid-clavicular line, sliding right over the top of the third rib. The needle should then be removed, leaving the catheter.

The traditional large bore needle is 14 gauge, but they tend to be short and flimsy. They may not penetrate the pleura in an obese patient, and will probably kink off rapidly. Order the largest, longest angiocath possible and stock them in your trauma resuscitation rooms.

image

The top catheter in this photo is a 14 gauge 1.25 inch model. The bottom (preferred at Regions) is a 10 gauge 3 inch unit. Big difference! 

The final tip to treating a tension pneumothorax is that a chest tube must be placed immediately after inserting the needle. If the patient is on a ventilator, the positive pressure will slowly expand the lung. But if they are breathing spontaneously, the needle will change the tension pneumothorax into a simple open pneumothorax. Patients with other cardiovascular problems will not tolerate this for long and may need to be intubated if you dawdle.

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Advanced Needle Thoracostomy

I’ve recently written about the merits of needle vs finger thoracostomy. One of the arguments against needle thoracostomy is that it may not reach into the chest cavity in obese patients. As I mentioned yesterday, use the right needle!

Obviously, the one on top isn’t going to get you very far. The bottom one (10 gauge 3 inch) should get into most pleural spaces.

But what if you don’t have the right needle? Or what if the patient is massively obese and the longer needle won’t even reach? Pushing harder may seem logical, but it doesn’t work. You might be able to get the needle to reach to the pleural space, but the catheter won’t stay in it.

Here’s the trick. First, make the angiocatheter longer by hooking it up to a small (5 or 10cc) syringe. Now prep the chest over your location of choice (2nd intercostal space, mid-clavicular line or 5th intercostal space, anterior axillary line) and make a skin incision slightly larger than the diameter of the syringe. Now place the syringe and attached needle into the chest via your incision. It is guaranteed to reach the pleura, because you can now get the hub of the catheter down to the level of the ribs. Just don’t forget to pull out the catheter once you’ve placed the chest tube!

Related posts:

Why I Don’t Like Finger Thoracostomy

I continue to see interest in using finger thoracostomy in place of needling the chest for the management of real or presumed tension pneumothorax. As noted in the title, I don’t really care for this procedure. I know that there’s a lot of opinion on this topic out there, especially in blogs. My colleague, Scott Weingart (EMCrit) has a very nice podcast on the topic (link below). But the actual scientific literature supporting or condemning its use is sparse.

The procedure consists of doing a limited prep of the chest in the same location for regular chest tube placement, incision, rapid puncture of the parietal pleura, followed by placement of a finger into the pleural space to release tension. Sounds well and good! So what’s my beef? The arguments for it emphasize speed, certainty, and reversibility.

Let’s talk about speed first. This procedure is supposed to be fast. An incision, a few quick sweeps with a clamp, and voila! Finger inserted. And it can be this fast. But in reality, especially in training centers, people who don’t insert chest tubes very often take too long (1-2 minutes).

The next argument is certainty. There are a number of papers showing that needle thoracostomies often miss the mark, especially when using standard through the catheter needles. This is more likely to occur when the needle is inserted in the standard location (2nd intercostal space, midclavicular line) and in obese patients. My response is, use a longer needle!

The angio-catheter on top is a standard 14Ga 1.25 inch model, and won’t get you anywhere. It’s only good for thin people, and will kink as soon as the needle is withdrawn. The bottom model is 10Ga 3 inch, and is effective in everyone save the very morbidly obese. It’s thick and will not kink until it gets good and warm.

The final issue is reversibility. The argument goes, stick a needle in the lung and you’ll get a pneumothorax, but stick a finger in the chest and no harm done. I don’t completely buy this. Puncturing the lung does not a guarantee a pneumothorax. But it will require a subsequent chest xray to see if one develops. Finger thoracostomy doesn’t guarantee that a pneumothorax won’t occur. It also requires a chest xray later to check.

Bottom line: As you can tell, I’m not a big fan of finger thoracostomy, mainly due to speed (or lack thereof). Just stock some big fat needle catheters in your trauma bay and be done with it. But if you really, really want to use the finger technique, make sure that the person doing it is very experienced. This is not a learner’s procedure. It should take no more than 15 seconds, or the wrong person is doing it.

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