Penetrating Neck Trauma

Brief H&P

A young male presents to the emergency department after a self-inflicted stab wound to the neck. Examination revealed a knife handle protruding from the left lateral neck. A plain radiograph is shown below.

CXR: Radiopaque foreign body in left neck.

The patient was initially stable but developed shortness of breath upon attempting to lie flat for advanced imaging and was taken emergently to the operating room. Neck exploration showed no obvious neurovascular injuries, and the course of the 6cm blade was posterior to the trachea and esophagus. The knife was removed with “considerable force” as it was likely lodged within a portion of vertebral bone. The patient underwent esophagoscopy and bronchoscopy without identified tracheoesophageal injuries. The patient did well post-operatively and was discharged home.

Zones of Injury1-3

Previously, the evaluation and management of hemodynamically stable patients with penetrating neck injury was guided by the anatomic “zone” of injury. The affected zone guided the performance of additional diagnostic procedures including potentially morbid neck explorations.

Neck Zones of Injury

Understanding zone definitions remains important for the emergency physician to appreciate potentially implicated underlying structures. However, the advent of modern imaging modalities, specifically computed tomography with angiography, provides appropriate sensitivity for vascular and tracheoesophageal injuries when combined with detailed physical examination and maintenance of an appropriate threshold for the performance of additional studies if warranted by the clinical presentation (suboptimal imaging, concerning projectile trajectory, etc).

Zone Definition
I Clavicles/sternum to cricoid cartilage
II Cricoid cartilage to the angle of mandible
III Superior to the angle of mandible to the skull base


Algorithm for the Evaluation of Penetrating Neck Trauma



  1. Sperry JL, Moore EE, Coimbra R, et al. Western Trauma Association critical decisions in trauma: penetrating neck trauma. J Trauma Acute Care Surg. 2013;75(6):936-940. doi:10.1097/TA.0b013e31829e20e3.
  2. Brywczynski JJ, Barrett TW, Lyon JA, Cotton BA. Management of penetrating neck injury in the emergency department: a structured literature review. Emerg Med J. 2008;25(11):711-715. doi:10.1136/emj.2008.058792.
  3. Shiroff AM, Gale SC, Martin ND, et al. Penetrating neck trauma: a review of management strategies and discussion of the “No Zone” approach. Am Surg. 2013;79(1):23-29. doi:10.1007/978-3-662-49859-0_29.


Pediatric Head Trauma

Brief H&P:

A young child, otherwise healthy, is brought to the pediatric emergency department after a fall. The parents report a fall from approximately 2 feet after which the patient cried immediately and without apparent loss of consciousness. Over the course of the day, the patient developed an enlarging area of swelling over the left head. The parents were concerned about a progressive decrease in activity and interest in oral intake by the child, and they were brought to the emergency department for evaluation. Examination demonstrated a well-appearing and interactive child – appropriate for age. Head examination was notable for a 5x5cm hematoma over the left temporoparietal skull with an underlying palpable skull irregularity not present on the contralateral side. Non-contrast head computed tomography was obtained.



CT Head

Fracture of the left temporal and parietal bone with overlying scalp hematoma.

Algorithm for the Evaluation of Pediatric Head Trauma (PECARN)1,2,3

Algorithm for the evaluation of pediatric head trauma


  1. Kuppermann N, Holmes JF, Dayan PS, et al. Identification of children at very low risk of clinically-important brain injuries after head trauma: a prospective cohort study. Lancet. 2009;374(9696):1160-1170. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(09)61558-0.
  2. Brenner D, Elliston C, Hall E, Berdon W. Estimated risks of radiation-induced fatal cancer from pediatric CT. American Journal of Roentgenology. 2001;176(2):289-296. doi:10.2214/ajr.176.2.1760289.
  3. Schonfeld D, Bressan S, Da Dalt L, Henien MN, Winnett JA, Nigrovic LE. Pediatric Emergency Care Applied Research Network head injury clinical prediction rules are reliable in practice. Archives of Disease in Childhood. 2014;99(5):427-431. doi:10.1136/archdischild-2013-305004.

Spontaneous Intracranial Hemorrhage

Brief HPI

An approximately 40 year-old male with a history of aortic stenosis s/p mechanical aortic valve replacement (on Coumadin) as well as hypertension presented to the emergency department with a chief complaint of severe headache. The patient was in severe distress on arrival and was unable to provide detailed history, he complained of two days of severe left-sided headache while clutching his head and groaning. Examination was notable for sensory localization with directed movements of right hemibody, and no apparent response on the left. He was taken to emergently for CT head non-contrast.



CT Head non-contrast

57 mm right posterior parenchymal hemorrhage with intraventricular component. Moderate edema, mass effect and 9 mm of midline shift.

ED Course

Admission INR was 2.9, the patient received 25 units/kg of PCC as well as vitamin K 10mg IV x1. Neurosurgery was consulted and the patient was taken to the operating room for management.

Management of Supratherapeutic INR and Complications of Anti-Coagulation

Management of Supratherapeutic INR


  1. Ansell J, Hirsh J, Hylek E, et al. Pharmacology and management of the vitamin K antagonists: American College of Chest Physicians Evidence-Based Clinical Practice Guidelines (8th Edition). Chest 2008; (6 Suppl):160s

Severe Burns

ED Presentation

34F with no reported medical history BIBA with severe burns after house fire with estimated 70% TBSA involvement. On arrival, the patient was hypoxic, striderous, and unable to provide history. She was intubated for airway protection with some difficulty. Examination revealed deep partial and full-thickness burns to 70% of total body surface area including circumferential burns to bilateral upper extremities and extensive neck and anterior chest involvement. Initial fluid resuscitation and warming measures were instituted. Emergent bedside bronchoscopy revealed copious carbonaceous material throughout with attempts at lavage. Urine output was minimal despite aggressive resuscitation. Critical care transport to local burn facility was arranged where the patient ultimately expired.

Algorithm for the Management of Severe Burns

Algorithm for the Management of Severe Burns

Assessment of Burn Depth

Depth Cause Appearance Sensation
Superficial UV exposure Dry, red
Superficial partial-thickness Scald (splash)
Short flash
Blisters, moist, red
Painful to temperature/air
Deep partial-thickness Scald (spill)
Flame, oil, grease
Blisters, waxy dry, white/red
Full-thickness Scald (immersion)
Flame, steam, oil, grease, chemical, electrical
Waxy white, leathery grey, black
Deep pressure

Estimating Burn Surface Area


Image from

  • Trunk: 18% anterior, 18% posterior
  • Lower extremity (each): 9% anterior, 9% posterior
  • Upper extremity (each): 9%
  • Head/neck: 9%
  • Perineum: 1%

Burn Transfer Criteria

  • Partial thickness > 20% TBSA
  • Partial thickness > 10% TBSA for extremes of age (<10 or >50 years-old)
  • Any full-thickness
  • Burns involving face, hands, feet, genitalia, major joints
  • Electrical/chemical
  • Inhalation injury
  • Medical comorbidities impacting management/healing

See Also


  1. Monafo WW. Initial management of burns. N Engl J Med. 1996;335(21):1581–1586. doi:10.1056/NEJM199611213352108.
  2. Hettiaratchy S, Papini R. Initial management of a major burn: I–overview. BMJ. 2004;328(7455):1555–1557. doi:10.1136/bmj.328.7455.1555.
  3. Singer AJ, Della-Giustina D. Thermal Burns: Rapid Assessment and Treatment. Emergency Medicine Practice; 2000.
  4. Rice, PL. Emergency care of moderate and severe thermal burns in adults. In: UpToDate, Moreira ME (Ed), UpToDate, Waltham, MA. (Accessed on March 29, 2016)
  5. Gauglitz, GG. Overview of the management of the severely burned patient. In: UpToDate, Jeschke MG (Ed), UpToDate, Waltham, MA. (Accessed on March 29, 2016)

Necrotizing Soft-Tissue Infection (NSTI)


40 year-old male with a history of diabetes presents with right foot pain and swelling. His symptoms began 3 days ago with pain on the lateral surface of his right foot, described as aching, non-radiating and exacerbated with walking. Yesterday, he noted more prominent swelling and redness involving 4th and 5th toes. He denies trauma, fevers, and discharge.


  • Diabetes mellitus, diagnosed 8yrs ago


  • None


  • Non-contributory


  • Lives with wife and 2 children and works an office job.
  • Ten year history of tobacco use, quit 3 years ago.
  • No EtOH or drug abuse.


  • Metformin 500mg p.o. b.i.d.
  • Ibuprofen p.r.n. joint pain



Physical Exam:

VS: T 101.2 HR 88 RR 14 BP 147/71 O2 100% RA
Gen: Obese male, pleasant and in no acute distress, lying in bed with right foot raised.
HEENT: PERRL, EOMI, dry mucous membranes.
CV: RRR, normal S1/S2, no extra heart sounds, no murmurs.
Lungs: CTAB
Abd: +BS, non-tender.
Ext: Right lower extremity with 8x8cm area of erythema predominantly involving lateral aspect of foot, dorsum of foot and 3-5th digits. There is a shallow, 1x1cm ulcer on the plantar surface of foot near 5th MTP. Area is also notable for ecchymosis and palpable crepitus. There is minimal tenderness to palpation or with active/passive range of motion.
Skin: The remainder of the skin exam is unremarkable.
Neuro: AAOx3.


  • BMP: 134/4.3/104/26/18/1.4/206
  • WBC: 27.3/13.1/40/189 (90% neutrophils)
  • Lactate: 1.2
  • CRP: [pending]


CT Lower Extremity

  1. Calf cellulitis and gas-producing cellulitis in the lateral foot and toes.
  2. Thigh and inguinal lymphadenopathy.
  3. Although gas is seen down to the level of the bone, no definite bony changes are identified to establish a diagnosis of osteomyelitis. Please note that MRI is more sensitive for detection of early osteomyelitis.


40M with DM and diabetic foot ulcer resulting in a necrotizing soft tissue infection as evidenced by gas on imaging. Recommended surgical debridement and started on broad-spectrum antibiotics including:

  • vancomycin 1g i.v. q.12.h.
  • cefepime 2g i.v. q.8.h.
  • metronidazole 500mg i.v. q.8.h.

The patient underwent amputation of 3-5th digits with good surgical margins and was discharged on post-operative day three in good condition.

Skin and soft-tissue layers and their infections: 1

Skin and soft-tissue layers and their infections

Necrotizing Soft-Tissue Infections (NSTI):2,3,4

Risk Factors

  • IVDA
  • Comorbid conditions
    • DM
    • Obesity
    • Immunosuppression

Physical Exam

  • Early (non-specific)
    • Swelling
    • Erythema
    • Pain
  • Late (non-sensitive)
    • Tense edema outside affected skin perimeter
    • Disproportionate pain
    • Ecchymosis
    • Bullae
    • Crepitus
    • Systemic signs (fever, tachycardia, hypotension)


  • Surgical debridement
  • Antimicrobials
    • Carbapenem, combination B-lactam B-lactamase
    • Vancomycin, linezolid (MRSA coverage)
    • Clindamycin (inhibit protein synthesis)
  • Supportive therapy

LRINEC score 5

Name Value Score
CRP ≥150 4
WBC 15-25
Hb 11-13.5
Na <135 2
Creatinine >1.6 2
Glucose >180 1

<5 Low risk, 6-7 Intermediate risk, >8 High risk


  1. Morchi, R. (2/18/14). Emergency Medicine Procedures Cadaver Lab. Clinical Clerkship at UCLA. Los Angeles, CA.
  2. Goldstein, E. J. C., Anaya, D. A., & Dellinger, E. P. (2007). Necrotizing Soft-Tissue Infection: Diagnosis and Management. Clinical infectious diseases, 44(5), 705–710. doi:10.1086/511638
  3. Headley, A. J. (2003). Necrotizing soft tissue infections: a primary care review. American family physician, 68(2), 323–328.
  4. McHenry, C. R., Piotrowski, J. J., Petrinic, D., & Malangoni, M. A. (1995). Determinants of mortality for necrotizing soft-tissue infections. Annals of surgery, 221(5), 558–63.
  5. Wong, C.-H., Khin, L.-W., Heng, K.-S., Tan, K.-C., & Low, C.-O. (2004). The LRINEC (Laboratory Risk Indicator for Necrotizing Fasciitis) score: A tool for distinguishing necrotizing fasciitis from other soft tissue infections. Critical Care Medicine, 32(7), 1535–1541. doi:10.1097/01.CCM.0000129486.35458.7D

Skull Fracture

Frontal bone fractureID:

14 year-old female, previously healthy, brought in by ambulance s/p auto vs. pedestrian.


Incident unwitnessed, paramedics report no LOC with GCS 15 at scene. GCS 10 upon arrival to ED, with 2min GTC seizure. Patient intubated for airway protection and CT head showed non-displaced frontal bone fracture and small frontal SAH. Patient self-extubated, returned to baseline mental status and was transferred to PICU.


  • VS: 128/76mmHg, 120bpm, 22 R/min, 100% RA, 37.6°C
  • General: Alert and responsive young female with multiple bandages on extremities
  • HEENT: Right frontal hematoma, no bony defect palpated, multiple facial abrasions, no otorrhea, no rhinorrhea, TM clear b/l, no other ecchymosis.
  • CV: RRR, normal S1/S2, no M/R/G
  • Lungs: CTAB
  • Abdomen: +BS, soft, NT/ND, no rebound/guarding, no flank ecchymoses
  • Neuro: AAOx3, CN II-XII intact, sensation/motor/reflexes symmetric and intact.
  • Extremities: Well-perfused with good pulses, no focal bony tenderness, no joint effusions, multiple abrasions on extensor surfaces of all four extremities.

Assessment & Plan:

14yo female, previously healthy, s/p auto vs. peds followed by GTC seizure and CT head showing small SAH and non-displaced frontal bone skull fracture. No evidence of basilar skull fracture on examination or imaging. Seizure likely 2/2 irritation from SAH. Patient was followed closely in PICU with q1h neuro checks with low threshold for repeat CT if change in mental status or more seizures occurred. The patient was eventually transferred to the general ward and was discharged with neurology follow-up and Keppra for seizure prophylaxis for 6mo.

Types of Skull Fractures:

A system for skull fractures