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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Rare but Foreseeable: Rapidly Expanding Retropharyngeal Hematoma After Fall from Height


Case Presentation: An elderly man presented to the emergency department after a fall from a 15-foot height. Initial examination revealed signs of head and neck trauma without airway compromise. Computed tomography imaging identified cervical fractures at the first and second level with a retropharyngeal hematoma. In discussion with the trauma service, the patient was admitted to the hospital for airway monitoring. After 10 hours he clinically deteriorated, resulting in acute respiratory failure, and ultimately required intubation. The patient was intubated with a hyperangulated video laryngoscopy, and a surgical set-up was also prepared. The intubation was uncomplicated and resulted in clinical improvement. The patient was extubated after three days without difficulty and was ultimately discharged following an uncomplicated hospital course.

Discussion: Retropharyngeal hematoma is a rare but significant clinical condition. Rapid decline and airway compromise have been described. Patients often require intubation and mechanical ventilation to avoid airway obstruction and respiratory failure. Coagulopathies should be reversed, if present. Prompt recognition and treatment of this condition is crucial to successful management.

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