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THE LARYNX, BRONCHI AND OESOPHAGUS
If there is total airway obstruction the patient will die at the roadside, but if
he gets as far as hospital then the dyspnoea may not be as marked as expected.
Detached vocal cords could well increase the size of the airway initially only
to decrease it again when reactive swelling occurs some hours after the injury.
So it is that a patient with a fractured larynx, and say a ruptured spleen, could
be admitted with shock and no respiratory obstruction. The anaesthetist could
lift the detached epiglottis with his laryngoscope, intubate the patient, the spleen
Fig. 97. Loss of normal neck outline after fracture of the larynx.
could be removed and on extubation the patient may well develop respiratory
obstruction since by now the larynx is reactively oedematous.
Pain is a relatively minor feature; it may occur on swallowing and be
transmitted to the ear.
Mirror examination may show oedematous, haemorrhagic arytenoids,
mucosal tears and disorganized vocal cords. Direct laryngoscopy should be
done in all suspected cases.
Plain films will show swelling within the larynx, and subcutaneous em-
physema, but laryngographs do not have much importance in the acute
stage because of the relative complexity of the examination and also because
of the fact that the patient is seldom in a condition to cooperate with the
TREATMENT. When the injury is slight there is no need for any treatment
apart from observation in case laryngeal oedema develops. If the patient's
condition deteriorates he should be put to bed and treated with humidification,
oxygen and steroids, and if oedema progresses a tracheostomy should be
In the more severe cases there are two principles of treatment: (a) the
establishment of an airway with a tracheostomy, and (b) open exploration,
repair and reduction, and fixation of the fracture.
After the tracheostomy has been done, further exploration is carried out
through a horizontal collar incision. It is usually possible to enter the larynx
through the fracture and all torn soft tissue, such as detached cords, are
stitched back into position. There should be minimal dSbridement.