All posts by TheTraumaPro

Lateral Canthotomy For Orbital Compartment Syndrome

I’ve previously written about the orbital compartment syndrome and described the symptoms in the awake patient. I’d like to share a video of the procedure and provide a tip for diagnosing it in unconscious patients.

Patients at risk will have obvious facial trauma. During your physical exam, look for proptosis. This is caused by swelling or hemorrhage behind the globe pushing it forward. It may manifest itself as uneven opening of the eyelids, with the affected side being “propped” open (get it?). But in trauma, there may be significant edema which keeps the lid closed.

The easiest way to observe proptosis is to stand above the patients head, looking toward their feet. Crouch down so you can look across the lids in a direction horizontal to the floor. You should easily be able to detect if one eye protrudes further that the other.

You can also do a poor man’s compartment pressure test by gently using your thumbs to compress both globes simultaneously. If there is substantial difference in resistance between the two sides, a compartment syndrome may be present. Important note! Do a thorough globe exam first! If there is any evidence of globe rupture (hyphema, irregular pupil, extra tissue in the anterior compartment), don’t press the eye or perform a canthotomy. CT scan of the facial bones can help confirm the diagnosis if a mass effect is seen in the orbit or if the optic nerve appears to be on stretch.

The orbital compartment syndrome is an emergency! Once diagnosed, immediately proceed to canthotomy. Otherwise, damage to the optic nerve and retina is likely, and the patient may become blind in the affected eye.

Related post:

Tips For Surgeons: Seat Belt Sign

We see seat belt signs at our trauma center with some regularity. There are plenty of papers out there that detail the injuries that occur and the need for a low threshold for surgically exploring these patients. I have not been able to find specific management guidelines, and want to share some tidbits I have learned over the years. Yes, this is based on anecdotal experience, but it’s the best we have right now.

Tips for surgeons:

  • Common injuries involve the terminal ileum, proximal jejunum, and sigmoid colon. My observation is that location in the car is associated with the injury location, probably because of the location of the seat belt buckle. In the US, drivers buckle on the right, and I’ve seen more terminal ileum and buckethandle injuries in this group. Front seat passengers buckle on the left, and I tend to see proximal jejunum and sigmoid injuries more often in them.
  • Seat belt sign on physical exam requires abdominal CT for evaluation, regardless of age. The high incidence of significant injury mandates this test.
  • Seat belt sign plus any anomaly on CT requires evaluation in the OR. The only exception would be a patient with minimal fluid only in the pelvis with an unremarkable abdominal exam. But I would watch them like a hawk.
  • In patients who cannot be examined clinically (e.g. severe TBI), a rising WBC count or lactate beginning on day 2 after adequate resuscitation should prompt a trip to the OR. This is an indirect method for detecting injured bowel or mesentery.
  • Laparoscopy may be used in patients with equivocal findings. Excessive blood, bile tinged fluid, succus, or lots of fibrin deposits on the bowel should prompt conversion to laparotomy. Tip: place all ports distant to the seat belt mark. The soft tissues are frequently disrupted, and gas may leak into this pocket prohibiting good insufflation of the peritoneal cavity.
  • If in doubt, open the abdomen. It’s bad form to put in the scope, see something odd, and walk away. Remember, any abnormal finding after trauma is related to trauma until proven otherwise. It’s almost never pre-existing disease.

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Guideline: How To Manage Bleeding In The Anticoagulated Patient

Over the past year, I’ve written about bleeding problems in trauma patients caused or exacerbated by the various anticoagulants now on the market. The field of available drugs keeps growing, and the number of ways to keep blood in liquid form is increasing.

Here’s a link to a set of guidelines for approaching and treating patients who are taking these medications and then develop problematic bleeding. There are few good studies that have actually analyzed the efficacy of these methods, but it’s what we have to work with now. 

If you have any additional maneuvers that you think should be included, please comment or email. And feel free to implement some studies to find the real best practices.

Link: Guideline for bleeding in patients taking anticoagulants

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Not Your Usual Pneumothorax?

You’ve been called to the ED to see a patient with a “spontaneous pneumothorax”, but once you meet him you see that he doesn’t fit the classic profile (tall, slim male). What gives?

After closer questioning, he admits to have been smoking crack cocaine at the time. Freak coincidence?

There are a number of case reports dating from 1984 describing this association. A number of reasons have been cited:

  • A high incidence of tobacco smoking
  • Bullous disease caused by inhaled drug use
  • Inhalation of hot gas followed by frequent Valsalva maneuvers

I’ve seen this presentation about 5 times in my career. I always ask about drug use so I can ensure that a chemical dependency screen is ordered.

Reference: Pneumothorax, pneumomediastinum, and pneumopericardium following Valsalva’s maneuver during marijuana smoking. N Y State J Med 84(12):619-20, 1984.