Needle Decompression Hazards

Historically, tension pneumothax has been the 2nd leading cause of preventable death on the battlefield. Therefore, this is an important skill and is being taught to medics at the lowest level of care. However, as with all procedures, risks are involved. Feedback from the field has indicated that medics are performing this procedure too often and TOO medial, causing multiple complications.

The above video covers the hazards of a needle decompression. Below you will find a brief review of indications, contra-indications, etc. As always, please follow local protocols.

Needle decompression is indicated for the treatment of:
A. Tension pneumothorax and / or
B. Tension hemopneumothorax

A. Chest decompression is indicated in the field only in the face of a life-threatening
tension pneumothorax. In that situation, there are essentially no contraindications since
the only alternative is almost certain death.

A. Blunt force trauma to the chest that ruptures a portion of lung tissue
B. Fractured rib that punctures the lung tissue
C. Spontaneous pneumothorax for no apparent reason
D. Conversion of a simple pneumothorax to a tension pneumothorax by positive pressure
ventilation as with a bag-valve mask device etc.
E. Open pneumothorax that is covered and left unattended developing into a tension

A. Chest pain
B. Severe respiratory distress
C. Tachycardia
D. Hypotension
E. Decreased or absent breath sounds on affected side

A. Cyanosis
B. Distended neck veins
C. Tracheal deviation away from affected side

Pic 3
(Source: Canadian Tactical and Operational Medical Solutions)

A. Creation of pneumothorax where none existed previously
B. Laceration of lung tissue
C. Bleeding from laceration of intercostal blood vessels
D. Severe pain to conscious patient (since this is life-threatening, the procedure must be
continued )
E. Local hematoma
F. Laceration and/or puncture of the heart