Airway Fistulas in Adults




Airway Fistulas in Adults



Dawn P. Desiderio, Jacob C. Jackson



Abstract


Care for adult patients with acquired airway fistulas may present significant challenges to the anesthesia provider. Characterizing the lesion is the first step in planning management for operative repair or endoscopic intervention. The anesthesia provider must also have a clear understanding of what constitutes optimization of the patient for a procedure, options for reparative or palliative interventions, and appropriate postanesthesia care. Unconventional airway and ventilatory management may be necessary for large or complex airway fistulas causing significant derangement of the respiratory physiology.


Keywords


bronchopleural fistula; alveolopleural fistula; alveolar-parenchymal-pleural fistula; persistent air leak; tracheoesophageal fistula; bronchoesophageal fistula; endobronchial valve



Introduction


Fistula formation in the airway may be broadly defined as any defect that allows pathologic communication between the respiratory tract and an adjacent structure. The type of airway fistula is determined by which section of the tracheobronchial tree and which adjacent structure is involved. For example, a tracheoesophageal fistula (TEF) is a communication between the trachea and the esophagus, whereas a bronchopleural fistula (BPF) is a communication between a lobar or segmental bronchus and the pleural space. The cause of a fistula may be iatrogenic, traumatic, or secondary to a medical disorder. The fistula size, location, and the effects on ventilation are important in determining the morbidity for the patient, the options for therapeutic intervention, and the challenges the fistula may present to anesthesiology or intensive care providers. Table 45.1 provides an overview of the major airway fistula types in adults.



Table 45.1































Characteristics of Acquired Airway Fistulas in Adults
  Tracheoesophageal Fistula (TEF) Bronchopleural Fistula (BPF) Alveolopleural Fistula (APF)
Description Pathologic communication between the trachea and the esophagus Pathologic communication between a lobar or segmental bronchus and the pleural space Pathologic communication between the distal respiratory tree and the pleural space
Etiology Malignancy

Blunt or penetrating trauma


Mediastinal infection


Previous surgery


Corrosive fluid ingestion


Poisons and inhalation burns


Iatrogenic


Esophageal stent injury


EGD injury


TEE probe injury


Tracheal tube injury

Pulmonary surgery

Pneumonectomy


Lobectomy


Segmentectomy


Chest trauma


Pulmonary infection


Treatment of malignancy


Chemoradiation


Radiofrequency ablation


Microwave ablation

Pulmonary surgery

Lung volume reduction


Segmentectomy


Wedge resection


Chest trauma


Pulmonary infection


Spontaneous pneumothorax


Mechanical ventilator trauma

Sequelae Cough after ingestion (Ono’s sign)

Poor nutrition


Airway soilage


Pneumonia


Pulmonary sepsis

Persistent air leak

Atelectasis


Pneumothorax


Tension pneumothorax


Subcutaneous emphysema


Pneumonia


Empyema

Persistent air leak

Atelectasis


Pneumothorax


Tension pneumothorax


Subcutaneous emphysema


Pneumonia


Empyema

Management Minimize aspiration

Acid suppression therapy


Treat pulmonary infection


Pulmonary toilet


Esophageal stenting


Esophageal diversion


Surgical repair

Chest tube thoracostomy

Nutritional support


Treat pulmonary infection


Pulmonary toilet


Optimize ventilation


Bronchoscopic intervention Surgical repair

Chest tube thoracostomy

Heimlich valve


Blood patch pleurodesis


Chemical pleurodesis


Bronchoscopic intervention


Surgical repair


EGD, Esophagogastroduodenoscopy; TEE, transesophageal echocardiography.



Image


A large fistula of the central airways (such as TEF of the trachea or a BPF of a mainstem bronchus) that causes significant respiratory distress can be a devastating condition and frequently requires surgical intervention to prevent the development of pulmonary sepsis, which can be catastrophic. All types of airway fistulas warrant the utmost level of preoperative planning for even the most seasoned anesthesiologist. Thorough physical examination, reviewing the computed tomography (CT) scan, and bronchoscopic evaluation to localize the defect are essential in planning the anesthetic management. Airway techniques, such as jet ventilation or placement of a left- or right-sided double-lumen tube (DLT), may be necessary to avoid further injury to a central defect, preserve oxygenation and ventilation, and isolate the defect site for surgical repair.


In its own category of airway fistula is an alveolopleural or alveolar-parenchymal-pleural fistula (APF) of the distal tracheobronchial tree (beyond a segmental bronchus), which allows air to leak into the pleural space. The etiology and treatment of an APF is distinct from a BPF or tracheal fistula. If an APF does not readily heal it may lead to a persistent air leak (PAL), a condition where air continues to enter the pleural space from the lung parenchyma for an extended period, in particular if the patient is placed on positive pressure ventilation. A postoperative PAL is typically defined as one that lasts 4 postoperative days or beyond the expected postoperative hospital stay.1,2 Whereas a PAL may lead to a prolonged hospital stay and increased mortality, the usual course is less ominous than that of a large central airway fistula, especially if the etiology of the APF is postsurgical. Most patients with a PAL after lung resection can be safely discharged home under conservative management, and a chest tube connected to a one-way (Heimlich) valve for later removal at a follow-up clinic visit.1,3 However, some patients with an APF may need to undergo a surgical or endoscopic procedure to seal or isolate the defect to expedite the healing process.


A bronchopleural-cutaneous fistula (BPCF) describes a special condition occurring when a communication exists between the respiratory tree, the pleural space, and the subcutaneous area of the chest wall. Respired gases enter into the pleural space and then into the subcutaneous tissue to cause diffuse subcutaneous emphysema.4 This may occur when penetrating trauma to the chest wall injures a bronchus or other airway. For a BPCF, percutaneous chest tube placement will incompletely evacuate the pleural space to reinflate the lung because of continued filling via the airway fistula during spontaneous or mechanical ventilation.


Although the features of each fistula type are unique, an understanding of the pathophysiology of each is essential for the astute thoracic anesthesiology provider. The preoperative assessment of a challenging airway fistula includes ascertaining not only the characteristics of the airway fistula, but also other coexisting patient factors, a clear procedural plan, and the assurance of the availability of support staff and equipment. Communication with the surgeon or other proceduralist before initiation of the procedure often guides airway management planning and helps avoid pitfalls during the procedure. Patients must also be informed when significant difficulties are foreseen with oxygenation and ventilation or when there is a possible need for postoperative ventilatory support. The prudent approach is to have multiple backup modalities available, which may include extracorporal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) for the highest risk cases.5–7 The following case presentation highlights a management paradigm for a real patient with a central airway fistula.




Case Presentation


A 64-year-old former 20 pack-year smoker underwent a successful spinal surgery to repair a traumatic back injury sustained during a snowmobile accident, but he was experiencing anorexia, mild dysphagia, and persistent nausea during the recovery period. He was referred for an esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD), which demonstrated Barrett’s mucosa in the lower third of the esophagus and a fungating, partially obstructive mass at the gastroesophageal junction. Biopsies of the mass and further imaging confirmed a diagnosis of esophageal adenocarcinoma stage uT3N1M0. He was treated with several weeks of radiation therapy (50 Gray), neoadjuvant chemotherapy (carboplatin and paclitaxel), and nutritional support with tumor response and symptomatic improvement. He subsequently underwent a minimally invasive Ivor Lewis esophagectomy and laparoscopic jejunostomy from which he recovered well and was discharged home on the sixth postoperative day. However, at two weeks postprocedure, the patient returned to the hospital with fever, productive cough, and dyspnea. He had bilateral diffuse rales on physical exam. A CT scan of the chest showed bilateral basal predominant groundglass opacities and patchy consolidations, as well as defects in the proximal left mainstem bronchus and the esophagus that appeared to communicate (Fig. 45.1A). The patient was scheduled for an urgent EGD and flexible bronchoscopy for further assessment and treatment.


image
• Fig. 45.1 (A) Axial computed tomography (CT) image showing a fistula in the proximal left mainstem bronchus. There are bilateral pulmonary infiltrates from soiling of the airway. (B) Fiberoptic bronchoscopy at the level of the carina 2 days after CT imaging. The enlarging fistula is visualized in the membranous portion of the posterior left mainstem bronchus.


Case Management



Preoperative Assessment and Planning


The general preoperative assessment of a patient with a known or suspected airway fistula should be thorough, but it should focus on respiratory status, hemodynamics, airway assessment, and comorbidities that are likely to be significant factors in the induction and maintenance of the general anesthetic. Relevant comorbidities include major organ system dysfunction, morbid obesity, infectious processes, metabolic or hematologic derangements from oncologic treatment or ongoing pathologic process, and the presence of injuries from a recent trauma or surgery. In this case, the patient was hemodynamically stable when assessed for surgery but had persistent fever, cough, and dyspnea suggesting the presence of pulmonary infection. The airway assessment was reassuring, he was of average body habitus, and he had no other major organ system dysfunction outside of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract before presentation. No significant metabolic or hematologic derangements were present. The CT scan suggested an anastomotic leak and soilage of the lungs bilaterally secondary to a suspected central fistula.


Impact of an airway fistula on the ability to ventilate with positive-pressure ventilation (PPV) is difficult to predict as the actual size of the fistula is only one factor to consider, along with its shape, location, and other patient-specific factors, such as lung compliance. Maintenance of spontaneous ventilation is advantageous when suitable for the patient or the planned procedure. Ventilation is especially compromised in the setting of a large fistula and noncompliant lung parenchyma, which favors respired air passing through the low-resistance fistula into dead space rather than participating in alveolar gas exchange. With a clinically significant airway fistula, the patient may experience dyspnea and a sense of air hunger in response to respiratory acidosis and ineffective respiratory mechanics because of the loss of the driving negative intrapleural pressure. If a chest drainage system is in place during preoperative assessment, it can provide additional useful information about the size of the air leak by observing the air leak chamber (Box 45.1).8 Patients with marked respiratory distress or grade 4 air leaks are unlikely to tolerate a standard anesthetic induction or PPV via a single-lumen endotracheal tube that does not isolate the airway defect. The patient in this case was only mildly dyspneic with a small-appearing (<8 mm) fistula based on CT imaging.



When planning airway management, the anesthesia provider must appreciate that PPV in the presence of a fistula communicating with the GI tract may result in insufflation of the esophagus and stomach, possibly exacerbating reflux of gastric secretions into the lungs. PPV via a fistula communicating with the pleural space may result in a tension pneumothorax with hemodynamic collapse if a functioning chest drainage tube is not in place. A short, large-bore (≥20 Fr) chest tube should be placed for a large airway fistula communicating with the pleural space to palliate the high-volume air leak, prevent tension pneumothorax, and facilitate safer conditions for administering an anesthetic (Box 45.2).9,10 For proximal tracheal fistulas, rapid sequence induction followed by intubation beyond the fistula site with fiberoptic bronchoscopic guidance is recommended to obviate ventilatory concerns. If possible, an awake fiberoptic intubation with placement of a single-lumen tube is the safest practice.




Airway Fistula Repair


In the operating room, a rapid sequence induction was performed to avoid unnecessary mask ventilation, and the patient was intubated with a single-lumen endotracheal tube. The patient was mechanically ventilated with low tidal volumes, low peak inspiratory pressures, low respiratory rate to allow for a prolong expiratory period, and no positive end-expiratory pressure (PEEP) to reduce air flow through the fistula (Box 45.3).11,12 Bronchoscopic evaluation confirmed endotracheal tube placement above the carina and no further injury to the fistula site. The bronchial fistula measured 5 mm at this time, and the patient tolerated mechanical ventilation without difficulty. Esophagoscopy revealed partial necrosis of the gastric conduit with fistula formation at the site of anastomosis. A self-expanding metallic esophageal stent was placed to limit tracheobronchial soiling while planning for a definitive surgical repair. A chest tube thoracostomy was also performed to drain the pleural space, and the patient was placed on intravenous antibiotics.


Oct 6, 2021 | Posted by in ANESTHESIA | Comments Off on Airway Fistulas in Adults
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