Spontaneous tracheal and subglottic tears in neonates

Deborah S.F. Kacmarynski, James D Sidman, Frank L. Rimell, Virginia A. Hustead

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Objectives/Hypothesis: Spontaneous rupture of the trachea or subglottis as a complication of difficult delivery has not been reported in the United States literature. There have been a few cases reported in the European literature. The present report describes a series of newborns with this complication and discusses the signs and treatment options of this difficult, life-threatening problem. Study Design: Retrospective review. Methods: Newborns born between 1996 and 2001 who were treated for spontaneous subglottic or tracheal rupture at a tertiary care children's hospital neonatal intensive care unit were reviewed. Results: Four cases of spontaneous subglottic rupture were seen at the hospital. In three of the four cases the tracheas were emergently intubated after subcutaneous air was noted in the anterior aspect of the neck. In the fourth patient the trachea was not intubated until the subglottic tear was visualized intraoperatively. Two of the four patients died. One died without securing of an airway; the other died of complications of prolonged hypoxia. Eight cases from European literature of spontaneous neonatal subglottic and tracheal tears are reviewed and are compared with the cases presented in the current report. Conclusions: Early detection of airway rupture by flexible endoscopy is essential for timely diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Standard endotracheal intubation can exacerbate the problem and should be deferred if possible until direct airway visualization can be accomplished. Signs associated with tracheal tears include subcutaneous emphysema, respiratory distress, pneumothorax, and pneumomediastinum. These should lead to emergent consultation with otolaryngologists for examination and securing of the airway.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1387-1393
Number of pages7
Issue number8
StatePublished - Jan 1 2002


  • Pneumomediastinum
  • Pneumothorax
  • Shoulder dystocia
  • Subcutaneous emphysema
  • Tracheal rupture

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