Electrosurgery-induced endotracheal tube ignition during tracheotomy

Al Aly, James A. Duncavage

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


Electrosurgery was the most common source of ignition for operating room fires prior to the advent of lasers. When combined with volatile anesthetic mixtures, electrosurgery has caused ignition of plastic, rubber, paper, enteric gases, and combustible preparation solutions. We report on an intubated patient whose polyvinyl chloride endotracheal tube ignited during a tracheotomy performed with an electrosurgical unit. The oxygen-rich environment, the polyvinyl chloride tube, and the heat generated by the electrosurgical unit combined to produce a fire. Since otolaryngologists are called upon often to perform tracheotomies on intubated patients, it is imperative that they understand the factors involved in the development of such a fire. This case is presented with an explanation of why this type of fire occurs. A brief review of the literature is included. Different kinds of electrosurgical units, precautions as to their use, and the management of electrosurgery-induced endotracheal tube fires are also discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)31-33
Number of pages3
JournalAnnals of Otology, Rhinology & Laryngology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1991
Externally publishedYes


  • cautery
  • electrocautery
  • electrosurgery
  • endotracheal tube
  • fire
  • ignition
  • tracheotomy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Otorhinolaryngology


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