Fatal Airway Compromise Due to Retropharyngeal Hematoma After Airbag Deployment

Tenofsky, Patty L.; Porter, Scott W.; Shaw, John W.
July 2000
American Surgeon;Jul2000, Vol. 66 Issue 7, p692
Academic Journal
In trauma patients it is possible for a hematoma to form in the potential space between me pharynx and cervical spine (the retropharyngeal space). Fewer than 30 cases of actual airway obstruction secondary to retropharyngeal hematomas have been reported. We present an unusual case of an elderly woman who was involved in a minor motor vehicle collision which deployed her airbag. She died as a result of anoxic injury to the brain. Autopsy results demonstrated transverse fractures through the bodies of C5 and C7 with associated significant retropharyngeal and mediastinal hematoma. Airbags have been shown to significantly decrease the mortality rate in frontal collisions; however, the potential for hyperextension injuries from airbag deployment exists, especially if the occupant is unrestrained, small, or sitting too close to the airbag. When this woman's airbag deployed, it most likely caused her vertebral fractures, hematoma, subsequent airway compromise, and anoxic brain injury. Whatever the mechanism of trauma, one must be cognizant of the potential risk for retropharyngeal hematoma and airway compromise when a patient presents with injury to the cervical spine.


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