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Laryngotracheal and pharyngoesophageal traumatic injuries from US military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, 2003–2017


Introduction Laryngotracheal and pharyngo-oesophageal trauma present military providers with especially difficult, life-threatening challenges. Although effective treatment strategies are crucial, there is no clear consensus. This study of combat injuries from Iraq and Afghanistan describes initial treatment outcomes.

Methods US service members who sustained ‘laryngotracheal’ and ‘pharyngoesophageal’ injuries while deployed in military operations from 2003 to 2017 were identified from the Expeditionary Medical Encounter Database. Those with inhalation or ingestion injuries and an Injury Severity Score (ISS) <16 were excluded. Data on demographics, survival, mechanism and type of injury and diagnostic and therapeutic intervention were recorded.

Results A total of 111 service members met inclusion criteria. Nearly one-third (32.4%) were killed in action (KIA) or died of wounds (DoW). Fatality was not significantly associated with age, theatre of operation, type of injury or mechanism of injury, but was associated with a higher ISS and those in the Marines. Although survival rates were not significantly different, the frequency of these injuries decreased after the introduction of cervical collar protection in 2007. Of those who DoW or survived, 41.1% required a surgical airway. Tracheobronchoscopy was performed in 25.6%, oesophagoscopy in 20.0% and oesophagram in 6.7%. Of the 85 with penetrating neck injuries, 43 (50.6%) underwent neck exploration, in which 31 (72.1%) required intervention.

Conclusions Severe laryngotracheal and pharyngo-oesophageal injuries have a high fatality rate and demand prompt treatment from skilled providers. Further work will elucidate preventive measures and clear management algorithms to optimise outcomes.

  • adult otolaryngology
  • head & neck surgery
  • laryngology
  • otolaryngology
  • trauma management
  • oral & maxillofacial surgery

Data availability statement

Data may be obtained from a third party and are not publicly available.

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