During a period of 11 1/2 mth, 41 of 217 adult burn patients admitted to the US Army Institute of Surgical Research Burn Center required endotracheal intubation or tracheostomy for management of the airway and/or ventilatory assistance. Permanent upper airway sequelae were recorded and related to presence of inhalation injury, duration of tube placement, cuff pressure, and pulmonary compliance. An 'inhalation injury scoring system' based upon history, physical examination, bronchoscopic findings, and abnormalities at 133xenon lung scan correlated well with postinjury alteration in compliance and subsequent sequelae. Significant inhalation injury was found in 35 patients. Seventeen of the study patients survived (group I) and 24 patients expired (group II). Group I patients were screened for permanent airway sequelae by fiberoptic bronchoscopy, xeroradiograms, and spirometry undertaken an average of 11 wk after extubation or decannulation. Four patients developed tracheal stenosis and 5 patients had significant tracheal scar granuloma formation. Sequelae were generally more frequent and more severe after tracheostomy than after translaryngeal intubation, and duration of tube placement and presence of a tracheal stoma were the most important etiological factors in permanent damage. For initial respiratory support, we favor the use of translaryngeal (nasotracheal) tubes for periods up to 3 wk. Fiberoptic bronchoscopic examination is the most reliable follow-up method for detecting anatomic damage in such patients. Spirometry can be used as a noninvasive screening test and xeroradiograms are helpful in assessing the degree of tracheal stenosis.
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