When life gives you LEMONs- Predicting difficult intubations in the ED


Reed MJ, Dunn MJ, & McKeown DW. Can an Airway Assessment Score Predict Difficulty at Intubation in the Emergency Department? Emerg Med J 2005; 22(2): 99 – 102.

Main Points:

  1. Rapid assessment tools can be helpful in predicting difficult intubations in the emergency department
  1. Use of SOME elements of the LEMON (look, evaluate, mallampati, obstruction, neck mobility) approach to airway assessment MAY be helpful in predicting likely laryngoscopic view (Cormack- Lehane grade) as a proxy for difficulty of intubation. The following are more likely found in patients with high grade views (2-4).
  • large incisors
  • reduced inter-incisor distance
  • reduced thyroid to floor of mouth distance


Predicting difficult intubations is not always straightforward. At the time of publication (2005), little validation of rapid assessment of possible difficult intubations in the ED. The authors test the use of the LEMON approach as a predictor of difficult intubations, and suggest key parts of the assessment that are most helpful.



The study was a prospective, observational trial conducted in the UK at a teaching Emergency Department between June 2002 and September 2003.   156/177 patients intubated over that time were included in the study. Those excluded were done so because no LEMON assessment was completed. Of the remaining included, a modified LEMON assessment was completed including: LOOK- facial trauma, large incisors, large tongue, facial hair; EVALUATE- inter-incisor distance (<3 fingers), hyoid-mental distance (<3 fingers), thyroid to floor of mouth distance (<2 fingers); MALLAMPATI 1/2 versus 3/4 ; OBSTRUCTION; and NECK MOBILITY- cervical collar versus no collar. One point was assigned for each criterion that was found. If a criterion was though unassessable, a score of zero was given. Outcome was determined by laryngoscopic view as outlined by the Cormack-Lehane grading scale; grade 1 was considered an easy intubation, grades 2-4 were considered difficult. ALL intubations were successful, and if multiple attempts were used, the grade of view on the successful attempt was used. Authors used Fischer’s exact test to compare the categorical variables, Student’s t test to compare continuous data. Spearman rank sum test was used to assess correlation between categorical variables.

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