Subcutaneous emphysema and pneumolabyrinth plus pneumocephalus as complications of middle ear implant and cochlear implant surgery

Brian J. McKinnon, Tamara Watts

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


We conducted a retrospective case review at a tertiary academic medical center for the complications of pneumolabyrinth with pneumocephalus and subcutaneous emphysema after surgery for middle ear and cochlear implants. Charts of 76 cochlear implant and 2 middle ear implant patients from January 2001 through June 2009 were reviewed. We identified 1 cochlear implant recipient with pneumolabyrinth and pneumocephalus, and 1 middle ear implant recipient with subcutaneous emphysema. Surgical exploration was performed for the pneumolabyrinth with pneumocephalus; the subcutaneous emphysema was managed conservatively. The patient with the cochlear implant, who had had a ventriculoperitoneal shunt placed, experienced pneumolabyrinth with pneumocephalus 6 years after uneventful surgery. Middle ear exploration revealed no residual fibrous tissue seal at the cochleostomy. The middle ear and cochleostomy were obliterated with muscle, fat, and fibrin glue. The ventriculoperitoneal shunt was deactivated, with clinical and radiographic resolution. On postoperative day 5, the patient who had undergone the middle ear implant reported crepitance over the mastoid and implant device site after repeated Valsalva maneuvers. Computed tomography showed air surrounding the internal processor. A mastoid pressure dressing was applied and the subcutaneous emphysema resolved. These 2 cases support the importance of recognizing the clinical presentation of pneumolabyrinth with associated pneumocephalus, as well as subcutaneous emphysema. Securing the internal processor, adequately sealing the cochleostomy, and providing preoperative counseling regarding Valsalva maneuvers and the potential risk of cochlear implantation in the presence of a ventriculoperitoneal shunt may prevent adverse sequelae.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)298-300
Number of pages3
JournalEar, Nose and Throat Journal
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2013
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Otorhinolaryngology


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