A 35-year-old man was admitted through the Emergency Department with a three-day history of sore throat, drooling of saliva and fever. In the twenty-four hours leading up to his admission he had reported increasing difficulty breathing and hoarseness. His past medical history included obesity and non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus.
On initial assessment he was found to be stridulous, drooling, tachypnoeic, tachycardic and febrile. Supplemental oxygen was applied and intravenous access obtained, with blood cultures being sent prior to administration of broad-spectrum antibiotics (Ceftriaxone, Benzylpenicillin and Metronidazole). Despite nebulised Adrenaline, intravenous fluid and intravenous dexamethasone, he continued to deteriorate and was transferred to the anaesthetic room for definitive airway management. Findings at intubation were consistent with acute epiglottitis. Swabs were taken and oral fibreoptic intubation was successfully performed.
Following admission to the ICU, he was mechanically ventilated and sedated with infusions of Propofol and Remifentanil. Antibiotic therapy was continued and he was commenced on regular dexamethasone to reduce epiglottic oedema. He required a low- dose noradrenaline infusion to maintain blood pressure, and was commenced on an insulin sliding scale. Two days after admission his airway was reassessed with direct laryngoscopy, and was found to be significantly less oedematous.
At this stage a sedation hold was performed, with the patient opening eyes spontaneously and seeming to obey commands. He was extubated to humidified facemask oxygen but shortly afterwards became agitated, combative and delirious (CAM-ICU positive). The patient was re-intubated within a two-hour period and Propofol and Remifentanil sedation was recommenced. Over the following two days, he remained inappropriate on daily sedation holds, and by this stage was receiving bolus doses of Haloperidol for episodes of acute agitation. CT imaging of his brain revealed no abnormality, and lumbar puncture was negative for central nervous system infection. Intravenous dexamethasone had been weaned, in view of the improvement in epiglotittis seen at laryngoscopy.
By day six of his admission he remained neurologically inappropriate on sedation hold, and was changed to an intravenous infusion of Dexmedetomidine at 0.7 mcg/kg/hr. Remifentanil was weaned off at this time, and Propofol infusion was reduced to baseline levels. This continued for a further twenty-four hours, by which time he was neurologically appropriate on sedation hold, obeying commands, and was extubated uneventfully.
On direct questioning, the patient did not recall his first extubation episode on Intensive Care. He did recall a combination of vivid visual and auditory hallucations, including the presence of insects in his bed, hearing persecutory voices and a feeling of helplessness and fear. He made a full recovery, and these symptoms had fully resolved by the time he was discharged from hospital.
What is the role of dexmedetomidine in the prevention and management of ICU delirium?