Car accidents are the leading cause of blunt chest trauma. More than 6 million car accidents occur each year in the United States, injuring at least 3 million drivers. Violence is also a common culprit, especially when guns are involved. First responders will inevitably encounter many forms of chest trauma. A comprehensive patient assessment can help you prioritize treatment goals and stabilize patients for transport. However, knowing the most common injuries associated with blunt chest trauma can expedite the assessment and improve treatment outcomes.
Rib fractures are among the most common chest wall injuries. Depending on the severity and location of the fracture, these injuries can make treating other injuries more difficult. Additionally, rib injuries cause a sensation of being unable to breathe. This can cause patients to panic, potentially complicating other injuries. It is important to assess all patients with rib fractures for signs of underlying lung injuries. If the patient’s lungs are fine, reassure them of this fact to keep them calm.
Severe trauma can damage the lungs, reducing blood oxygenation or causing pneumothorax. Needle decompression coupled with tube thoracostomy is the first line of defense against a collapsed lung, so be prepared to quickly assess and treat patients while giving supplemental oxygen.
A sudden blow to the chest may bruise or otherwise injure the heart. Vascular injuries such as compression of vital blood vessels are common. Be mindful of how superficial injuries may conceal deeper injuries of the heart and blood vessels. First responders must also be careful not to put pressure on damaged structures that may injure the heart or puncture vulnerable blood vessels.
As one of the body’s largest organs, the liver occupies significant space in the upper abdomen. It’s also filled with important blood vessels. So liver injuries can quickly cause fatal bleeding. If injuries extend to the lower chest or upper abdomen, check for signs of liver bleeding and other liver injuries.
Chest trauma can injure the lower airway, including the heart and tracheobronchial tree. Because blows to the chest often happen when a person hits a steering wheel or airbag, the upper airway is also vulnerable. Look for damage to the trachea or throat, punctured structures, and bleeding. The DuCanto CatheterⓇ can help manage active bleeding in the airway to reduce aspiration risk as you stabilize the patient.
The chest houses numerous blood vessels, including large arteries that are critical to sustaining life. Bleeding is common with chest injuries, particularly penetrating injuries. Even when there is no penetration, blunt force trauma can cause extensive internal bleeding. First responders should look for signs of internal bleeding such as rapid heart rate, pallor, confusion, loss of consciousness, white or blue lips or nail beds, low pulse oxygen, and low blood pressure. These injuries often require prompt surgery, and stabilizing care can be life-saving.
The Right Equipment Can Save Lives
Managing chest trauma can be challenging, particularly when there are soft tissue, bone, and/or vessel injuries complicating airway trauma. Trauma is the leading cause of death and disability among most age groups. Worldwide, chest trauma accounts for 25-50 percent of all trauma-related fatalities. The right treatment strategy can reduce morbidity and mortality. Quality airway management equipment is critical to the goal of delivering prompt, competent treatment. A portable emergency suction machine saves time and money. It also enables you to treat the patient wherever they are, preventing transport delays and reducing the risk of movement-related injuries. For assistance choosing the right suction machine for your agency, download our free guide, The Ultimate Guide to Purchasing a Portable Emergency Suction Device.