• Users Online: 1198
  • Print this page
  • Email this page

 Table of Contents  
Year : 2017  |  Volume : 1  |  Issue : 6  |  Page : 22-24

The cuff leak test prior to extubation: A practice based on limited evidence

1 Department of Medicine, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
2 Department of Medicine, McMaster University; Department of Health Research Methods, Evidence and Impact, McMaster University; Guidelines in Intensive Care, Development and Evaluation (GUIDE) Group, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

Date of Web Publication23-Nov-2017

Correspondence Address:
Waleed Alhazzani
Department of Medicine, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario
Login to access the Email id

Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/sccj.sccj_27_17

Rights and Permissions

Endotracheal intubation and mechanical ventilation are lifesaving interventions that are commonly performed in the intensive care unit (ICU). The trauma of endotracheal intubation itself, the prolongued pressure exerted by the endotracheal tube on the larynx, and miscellaneous factors such as fluid overload can result in laryngeal edema (LE). Extubation of a patient with undiagnosed LE can results in respiratory failure secondary to an upper airway obstruction and may require reintubation. Respiratory failure requiring reintubation is associated with morbidity and mortality. The cuff leak test (CLT) is the only method intensivists use to predict the presence of LE. Despite the CLT's first description in 1988, the correct way to interpret the results (either qualitatively or quantitatively) is unknown, and its diagnostic accuracy has been called into question. In fact, the CLT could be detrimental to patients if it has a high false positive rate (i.e. no air leak is detected indicating LE when none actually exists). Incorrectly diagnosing patients with LE may result in prolongued mechanical ventilation that predisposes patients to barotrauma, ventilator-associated infections, exposure to systemic steroids, and a prolongued stay in the ICU. Given the paucity of data, the Cuff Leak and Airway Obstruction in Mechanically Ventilated ICU Patients (COMIC) research group is conducting a survey to understand international practice surround the use of the CLT prior to extubation, as well as a randomized controlled trial that will capture the accuracy of the test and determine the bet method to measure cuff leak.

Keywords: Airway obstruction, cuff leak test, ICU, laryngeal edema

How to cite this article:
Lewis K, Alhazzani W. The cuff leak test prior to extubation: A practice based on limited evidence. Saudi Crit Care J 2017;1, Suppl S2:22-4

How to cite this URL:
Lewis K, Alhazzani W. The cuff leak test prior to extubation: A practice based on limited evidence. Saudi Crit Care J [serial online] 2017 [cited 2023 Jun 4];1, Suppl S2:22-4. Available from: https://www.sccj-sa.org/text.asp?2017/1/6/22/219133

  Introduction Top

While endotracheal intubation and mechanical ventilation are lifesaving interventions, they can be associated with serious complication such as laryngeal edema (LE).[1] LE is thought to be caused by marked granulocytic infiltration to the traumatized airway.[2] LE can result in airway narrowing and increased airflow velocity, a narrowing of the lumen by ≥50% may result in stridor and respiratory distress.[3] Observational studies showed that about 3.5% of patients with LE will require reintubation.[4] For various reasons, reintubation itself can be associated with morbidity and mortality.[5]

Unfortunately, direct visualization of the larynx is difficult in intubated patients. Therefore, clinicians depend on surrogate measures that could indicate airway narrowing such as the cuff leak test (CLT). In this concise review, we aim to discuss the current evidence and guidelines, evidence gaps, and recommendations moving forward.

  Description of the Cuff Leak Test Top

The CLT was first described in 1988 to screening for airway edema prior to extubation.[6] This easy to perform, noninvasive test involves deflating the balloon cuff on the endotracheal tube (ETT) and observing whether the patient can breathe around it. Detection of air movement auscultation suggests that the airway is patent.[6] A complete absence or reduction in leak would raise the concern of LE.

Miller and Colequantitatively defined the CLT. They assessed the difference between the inspiratory tidal volume and average expiratory tidal volume with a deflated ETT cuff. The positive predictive value for postextubation stridor was 80% if the cuff leak was <110 mL, and the negative predictive value was 98% if the cuff leak was >110 mL.[7]

Another method to quantify the cuff leak is by the proportion of change in tidal volumes with and without the balloon inflated which is described as follows:

End tidal volume balloon inflated (ETVBI) − ETV balloon deflated]/ETVBI × 100%.[8]

Regression analysis of the diagnostic thresholds failed to identify a specific threshold effect.[4]

  Current Evidence Top

There are conflicting results on the utility and diagnostic accuracy of the CLT. To date, there are 14 observational studies that either examined reintubation rates or rates of postextubation stridor.[7],[9],[10],[11],[12],[13],[14],[15],[16],[17],[18] Two meta-analyses of these studies examined the diagnostic accuracy of a CLT.[4],[19] One meta-analysis reports that a failed CLT is insensitive but it is a specific predictor of LE (sensitivity and specificity 0.56; 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.48–0.63 and 0.92, 95% CI: 0.90–0.93; respectively) and reintubation (sensitivity and specificity for reintubation 0.63, 95% CI: 0.38–0.84 and 0.86, 95% CI: 0.81–0.90; respectively).[19] The second meta-analysis also states that the failed CLT was associated with postextubation LE, particularly in patients with more than 5 days' duration of intubation (odds ratio [OR] = 2.09, 95% CI: 1.28–2.89), but was not associated with higher odds of reintubation (OR = 0.94, 95% CI: 0.32–1.57).[4] The results are summarized in [Table 1].
Table 1: Summary of evidence from systematic reviews on the cuff leak test

Click here to view

As both meta-analyses were largely based on observational studies, there may be a large element of bias, leaving the accuracy of the CLT undetermined. In attempts to clarify the accuracy, the authors of the American Thoracic Society's Clinical Practice Guidelines on the Liberation from Mechanical Ventilation used the data from 14 observational trials to simulate a clinical trial.[20] They assumed that those who failed the CLT had a delay in extubation by 1 day, and all patients in the control group as well as those who passed their CLT were extubated without delay. The results of the simulated trial showed that the cuff leak-guided management decreased postextubation stridor (risk ratio [RR], 0.6; 95% CI: 0.47–0.77) and ultimately reintubation rates (RR 0.58; 95% CI: 0.40–0.83). However, they also found that the CLT unnecessarily delayed extubations (9.2% absolute increase).[20] This may be particularly concerning in those select patients who have a false-positive test (i.e., an absence of a cuff leak when no LE actually exists). Not only will a false-positive CLT delay extubation, but it may also expose patients unnecessarily to the treatment of LE, which is typically a course of systemic steroids. The very low quality of the body of evidence has led the guideline panel to issue a weak recommendation to perform CLT prior to extubating high-risk patients,[20] leaving other populations without specific guidance. While they suggested that high-risk patients (i.e., those intubated for more than 6 days, had a traumatic intubation, have a large ETT tube, or were reintubated after an unplanned extubation) should have the test done prior to extubation, they stated that each patient should be assessed individually for their risk of LE.[20] This is a clear reflection of paucity of evidence.

  Evidence Gaps and Future Direction Top

There are no surveys in the literature that describe the behavior and beliefs of intensivists with regard to the CLT. Therefore, it is not possible to predict how large of a problem is this in clinical practice. As part of Cuff leak and airway Obstruction in Mechanically ventilated ICU patients (COMIC) research program, we have planned to conduct an international survey that will help to understand the variability in practice in Canada, Europe, and Saudi Arabia.

Given the fact that all prior studies are at a considerable risk of bias, the diagnostic accuracy of the CLT is still unknown. In addition, it is possible that the routine use of the CLT may potentially be harmful by prolonging mechanical ventilation, and subsequently, increasing the risks of barotrauma, ventilator-associated pneumonia, and ICU length of stay. Therefore, a large randomized clinical trial is necessary to investigate the diagnostic accuracy of the CLT and its impact on patients' outcomes. Herein, we are introducing the COMIC Trial. In the COMIC Trial, we will randomize adult critically ill ventilated patients who are deemed ready to be extubated into two groups. In the control group, the CLT will be performed but the results will not be communicated to the physician and the patient will be extubated regardless of the results. While in the intervention group, the physician will be notified of the results of the test. If the patient fails the CLT, the physician will be encouraged to provide the patient with a short course of steroids prior to extubation. Patient important outcomes such as rates of reintubation for upper airway obstruction, duration of mechanical ventilation, mortality, and ICU lengths of stay will be explored. This RCT will also allow us to capture the accuracy of the test and to determine the best method to measure the cuff leak.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

Maury E, Guglielminotti J, Alzieu M, Qureshi T, Guidet B, Offenstadt G, et al. How to identify patients with no risk for postextubation stridor? J Crit Care 2004;19:23-8.  Back to cited text no. 1
Way WL, Sooy FA. Histologic changes produced by endotracheal intubation. Ann Otol Rhinol Laryngol 1965;74:799-812.  Back to cited text no. 2
Mackle T, Meaney J, Timon C. Tracheoesophageal compression associated with substernal goitre. Correlation of symptoms with cross-sectional imaging findings. J Laryngol Otol 2007;121:358-61.  Back to cited text no. 3
Zhou T, Zhang HP, Chen WW, Xiong ZY, Fan T, Fu JJ, et al. Cuff-leak test for predicting postextubation airway complications: A systematic review. J Evid Based Med 2011;4:242-54.  Back to cited text no. 4
Demling RH, Read T, Lind LJ, Flanagan HL. Incidence and morbidity of extubation failure in surgical intensive care patients. Crit Care Med 1988;16:573-7.  Back to cited text no. 5
Potgieter PD, Hammond JM. “Cuff” test for safe extubation following laryngeal edema. Crit Care Med 1988;16:818.  Back to cited text no. 6
Miller RL, Cole RP. Association between reduced cuff leak volume and postextubation stridor. Chest 1996;110:1035-40.  Back to cited text no. 7
Cheng KC, Chen CM, Tan CK, Chen HM, Lu CL, Zhang H, et al. Methylprednisolone reduces the rates of postextubation stridor and reintubation associated with attenuated cytokine responses in critically ill patients. Minerva Anestesiol 2011;77:503-9.  Back to cited text no. 8
Sandhu RS, Pasquale MD, Miller K, Wasser TE. Measurement of endotracheal tube cuff leak to predict postextubation stridor and need for reintubation. J Am Coll Surg 2000;190:682-7.  Back to cited text no. 9
Darmon JY, Rauss A, Dreyfuss D, Bleichner G, Elkharrat D, Schlemmer B, et al. Evaluation of risk factors for laryngeal edema after tracheal extubation in adults and its prevention by dexamethasone. A placebo-controlled, double-blind, multicenter study. Anesthesiology 1992;77:245-51.  Back to cited text no. 10
Chung YH, Chao TY, Chiu CT, Lin MC. The cuff-leak test is a simple tool to verify severe laryngeal edema in patients undergoing long-term mechanical ventilation. Crit Care Med 2006;34:409-14.  Back to cited text no. 11
De Bast Y, De Backer D, Moraine JJ, Lemaire M, Vandenborght C, Vincent JL, et al. The cuff leak test to predict failure of tracheal extubation for laryngeal edema. Intensive Care Med 2002;28:1267-72.  Back to cited text no. 12
Engoren M. Evaluation of the cuff-leak test in a cardiac surgery population. Chest 1999;116:1029-31.  Back to cited text no. 13
Erginel S, Ucgun I, Yildirim H, Metintas M, Parspour S. High body mass index and long duration of intubation increase post-extubation stridor in patients with mechanical ventilation. Tohoku J Exp Med 2005;207:125-32.  Back to cited text no. 14
Fisher MM, Raper RF. The 'cuff-leak' test for extubation. Anaesthesia 1992;47:10-2.  Back to cited text no. 15
Jaber S, Chanques G, Matecki S, Ramonatxo M, Vergne C, Souche B, et al. Post-extubation stridor in Intensive Care Unit patients. Risk factors evaluation and importance of the cuff-leak test. Intensive Care Med 2003;29:69-74.  Back to cited text no. 16
Kriner EJ, Shafazand S, Colice GL. The endotracheal tube cuff-leak test as a predictor for postextubation stridor. Respir Care 2005;50:1632-8.  Back to cited text no. 17
Antonaglia V, Vergolini A, Pascotto S, Bonini P, Renco M, Peratoner A, et al. Cuff-leak test predicts the severity of postextubation acute laryngeal lesions: A preliminary study. Eur J Anaesthesiol 2010;27:534-41.  Back to cited text no. 18
Ochoa ME, Marín Mdel C, Frutos-Vivar F, Gordo F, Latour-Pérez J, Calvo E, et al. Cuff-leak test for the diagnosis of upper airway obstruction in adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Intensive Care Med 2009;35:1171-9.  Back to cited text no. 19
Girard TD, Alhazzani W, Kress JP, Ouellette DR, Schmidt GA, Truwit JD, et al. An Official American Thoracic Society/American College of Chest Physicians Clinical Practice Guideline: Liberation from mechanical ventilation in critically ill adults. Rehabilitation protocols, ventilator liberation protocols, and cuff leak tests. Am J Respir Crit Care Med 2017;195:120-33.  Back to cited text no. 20


  [Table 1]


Similar in PUBMED
   Search Pubmed for
   Search in Google Scholar for
 Related articles
Access Statistics
Email Alert *
Add to My List *
* Registration required (free)

  In this article
Description of t...
Current Evidence
Evidence Gaps an...
Article Tables

 Article Access Statistics
    PDF Downloaded779    
    Comments [Add]    

Recommend this journal