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Conservative and Surgical Treatment of Acute Posttraumatic Tracheobronchial Injuries

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Acute posttraumatic tracheobronchial lesions are rare events associated with significant morbidity and mortality. They are caused by blunt and penetrating trauma, or they are iatrogenic, appearing after intubation or tracheotomy. Although surgery has traditionally been considered the treatment of choice for these injuries, recent reports show that conservative treatment can be effective in selected patients. The aim of this study was to evaluate the role of surgical and conservative management of these lesions, differentiated on the basis of clinical and endoscopic criteria.


From January 1993 to October 2010, a total of 50 patients with acute posttraumatic tracheobronchial lesions were referred for treatment to our department. In all, 36 patients had iatrogenic injuries of the airway, and 14 had lesions resulting from blunt or penetrating trauma.


Of the 30 patients who underwent surgery, the lesion was repaired with interrupted absorbable sutures in 29; the remaining patient, with an associated tracheoesophageal fistula, underwent single-stage tracheal resection and reconstruction and closure of the fistula. In all, 20 patients were treated conservatively: clinical observation in 5 patients, airway decompression with a mini-tracheotomy cannula in 4 spontaneously breathing patients, and tracheotomy with the cuff positioned distal to the lesion in 11 mechanically ventilated patients. One surgical and one conservatively-managed patient died after treatment (4% overall mortality). Complete recovery and healing were achieved in all the remaining patients.


Surgery remains the treatment of choice for posttraumatic lesions of the airway. However, conservative treatment based on strict clinical and endoscopic criteria—stable vital signs; effective ventilation; no esophageal injuries, signs of sepsis, or evidence of major communication with the mediastinal space—enables favorable results to be achieved in selected patients.

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Correspondence to Angelo Carretta.

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Carretta, A., Melloni, G., Bandiera, A. et al. Conservative and Surgical Treatment of Acute Posttraumatic Tracheobronchial Injuries. World J Surg 35, 2568–2574 (2011).

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