Neuromuscular blockade facilitates mask ventilation

A blinded randomised controlled trial of rocuronium versus saline in anaesthetised patients demonstrated that mask ventilation was easier in paralysed patients.

The authors comment on the implications of this finding:

Our finding that neuromuscular blockade facilitates mask ventilation has important implications for the practice of managing difficult or impossible mask ventilation after administration of these drugs. Options in this case include returning to spontaneous ventilation, tracheal intubation, placement of a supraglottic airway device or obtaining emergency invasive airway access. In most cases, returning to spontaneous ventilation is not practical in a reasonable time frame, leaving tracheal intubation, supraglottic airway placement or emergency invasive airway access as the only feasible choices. Considerable evidence exists indicating that neuromuscular blockade facilitates tracheal intubation; and since our data further indicate that neuromuscular blockade facilitates mask ventilation, it follows that administering neuromuscular blockade is an advantage, rather than a hindrance when given early in a case of unrecognised difficult mask ventilation.

We wished to test the hypothesis that neuromuscular blockade facilitates mask ventilation. In order reliably and reproducibly to assess the efficiency of mask ventilation, we developed a novel grading scale (Warters scale), based on attempts to generate a standardised tidal volume. Following induction of general anaesthesia, a blinded anaesthesia provider assessed mask ventilation in 90 patients using our novel grading scale. The non-blinded anaesthesiologist then randomly administered rocuronium or normal saline. After 2 min, mask ventilation was reassessed by the blinded practitioner. Rocuronium significantly improved ventilation scores on the Warters scale (mean (SD) 2.3 (1.6) vs 1.2 (0.9), p<0.001). In a subgroup of patients with a baseline Warters scale value of >3 (i.e. difficult to mask ventilate; n=14), the ventilation scores also showed significant improvement (4.2 (1.2) vs 1.9 (1.0), p=0.0002). Saline administration had no effect on ventilation scores. Our data indicate that neuromuscular blockade facilitates mask ventilation. We discuss the implications of this finding for unexpected difficult airway management and for the practice of confirming adequate mask ventilation before the administration of neuromuscular blockade.

The effect of neuromuscular blockade on mask ventilation
Anaesthesia. 2011 Mar;66(3):163-7