Clinical communication: Adults| Volume 41, ISSUE 4, e79-e82, October 2011

Massive Subcutaneous Emphysema and Pneumomediastineum After Finger Subtotal Amputation with Barotrauma


      Background: Advancement of pressurized air through subcutaneous tissue after barotraumas involving skin laceration has been documented in the literature. The type and anatomic location of injury, amount of pressure, and time elapsed all play a role in determining the destination of the air advancing through tissues. Objectives: To report a case demonstrating the vascular system as the anatomic pathway for subcutaneous pressurized air resulting from an industrial accident. Case Report: We present the case of a 28-year-old laborer wounded by an air valve blast. An enormous accumulation of air was released through a subtotal fingertip amputation. The clinical appearance of massive subcutaneous emphysema around the upper extremity, neck, and chest suggested chest trauma to the clinicians, despite the absence of signs of respiratory distress. X-ray studies revealed pneumomediastinum. After confirmation that the respiratory system was undamaged, microsurgical repair of the injured finger was performed. Resolution of subcutaneous emphysema and pneumomediastinum was complete at the end of follow-up. Conclusion: Compressed air injuries constitute a well-known form of industrial accident. Although most result in localized subcutaneous emphysema, the risk of pneumomediastinum should not be overlooked due to the anatomic structure of the vascular system. The clinician should consider the pressure of compressed air, and must be alert for potential complications.


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