BACKGROUND: Patients with acquired brain injury (ABI) often require long periods of having a tracheostomy tube for airway protection and prolonged mechanical ventilation. It has been recognized that fast and safe decannulation improves outcomes and facilitates the recovery process. Nevertheless, few studies have provided evidence for decannulation criteria, despite the high prevalence of ABI subjects with tracheostomies. The aim of our study was to assess which clinical parameters are the best predictors for decannulation in subjects with ABI.
METHODS: In this cross-sectional study, we recruited 74 consecutive ABI subjects (mean age 51.52 ± 16.76) with tracheostomy tubes. First, the subjects underwent the original decannulation assessment for cannula removal. Second, they underwent our experimental decannulation protocol. The experimental protocol included: voluntary cough (cough peak flow ≥160 L/min), reflex cough, tracheostomy tube capping (≥72 h), swallowing instrumental assessment (penetration aspiration scale ≤5), blue dye test, number of trachea suctions, endoscopic assessment of airway patency (lumen diameter ≥50%), saturation (SpO2>95%), and level of consciousness evaluation (Glasgow coma scale ≥8). The reference standard was clinical removal of the tracheostomy tube within 48 h.
RESULTS: Parameters showing the highest values of sensitivity and specificity, respectively, were tracheostomy tube capping (80%, 100%), endoscopy assessment of airway patency (100%, 30%), swallowing instrumental assessment (85%, 96%), and the blue dye test (65%, 85%). All these were combined in a clinical cluster parameter, which had higher sensitivity (100%) and specificity (82%).
CONCLUSION: These results suggest that the best clinical prediction rule for decannulation in acquired brain injury subjects is a combination of the following assessments: (1) tracheostomy tube capping, (2) endoscopic assessment of patency of airways, (3) swallowing instrumental assessment, and (4) blue dye test.