We describe a case of subcutaneous cervicofacial emphysema in a 21-year-old man who had undergone endotracheal intubation while under general anesthesia 2 months earlier. The emphysema had arisen on the right side of the face and neck and extended to the right shoulder and the cubital fossa. The patient was hospitalized and treated with parenteral antibiotics and hyperbaric oxygen. On hospital day 10, he had improved sufficiently to warrant discharge on the next day. Two months later, the patient presented at a follow-up visit with a recurrence, and he was readmitted. By hospital day 28, his condition had improved and he was scheduled for discharge. However; he experienced another recurrence just before he was to leave the hospital. The circumstances of this second recurrence led us to suspect that the patient was able to produce these signs and symptoms on his own. He was referred for psychiatric evaluation, and findings were negative. He was then sent to the Ear Nose, and Throat Service, where we confirmed that his subcutaneous emphysema could be brought on by Valsalva’s maneuver. We performed suspension laryngoscopy and detected two orifices of fistular tracts next to the right vallecula and three at the root of the epiglottis. We repaired the injured mucosa and the orifices of the fistulae with absorbable sutures and cauterized the area. The swelling resolved completely within 4 days, and findings on a radiographic examination of the chest and neck 1 week later were normal. The patient was then lost to follow-up. The presence of air in the retropharyngeal and cervical subcutaneous spaces of the neck and shoulder without pneumomediastinum is an uncommon complication of endotracheal intubation. We discuss the clinical and radiographic findings associated with this complication, and we review diagnostic considerations and management.
Cavuslu, Oncul, Gungor, Kizilkaya, Candan, , , , (2004). A case of recurrent subcutaneous emphysema as a complication of endotracheal intubation. Ear, nose, & throat journal, 2004 Jul;83(7):485-8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15372921