Proposal for the management of the unexpected difficult pediatric airway


Markus Weiss, MD, Department of Anaesthesia, University Children’s Hospital, Steinwiessstrasse 75, CH 8032 Zurich, Switzerland (email:


The incidence of unanticipated difficult or failed airway in otherwise healthy children is rare, and routine airway management in pediatric patients is easy in experienced hands. However, difficulties with airway management in healthy children are not infrequent in nonpediatric anesthetists and are a main reason for pediatric anesthesia-related morbidity and mortality. Clear concepts and strategies are, therefore, required to maintain oxygenation and ventilation in children. Several complicated algorithms for the management of the unanticipated difficult adult and pediatric airway have been proposed, but a simple structured algorithm for the pediatric patient with unanticipated difficult airway is missing. This paper proposes a simple step-wise algorithm for the unexpected difficult pediatric airway based on an adult Difficult Airway Society (DAS) protocol, discusses the role of recently introduced airway devices, and suggests a content of a pediatric airway trolley. It is intended as an easy to memorize and a practical guide for the anesthetist only occasionally involved in pediatric anesthesia care as well as a call to stimulate discussion about the management of the unanticipated difficult pediatric airway.