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Chewing gum in the preoperative fasting period: an analysis of de-identified incidents reported to webAIRS

The Australian and New Zealand Tripartite Anaesthetic Data Committee, 630 St. Kilda Rd, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

Summary

The role of preoperative fasting is well established in current anaesthetic practice with different guidelines for clear fluids and food. However, chewing gum may not be categorised as either food or drink by some patients, and may not always be specified in instructions given to patients about preoperative fasting. The aim of this paper was to review anaesthesia incidents involving gum chewing reported to webAIRS to obtain information on the risks, if any, of gum chewing during the preoperative fasting period. There were nine incidents involving chewing gum reported between late 2009 and early 2015. There were no adverse outcomes from the nine incidents other than postponement of surgery in three cases and cancellation in one. In particular, there were no reports of aspiration or airway obstruction. Nevertheless, there were five cases in which the gum was not detected preoperatively and was found in the patient’s mouth either intraoperatively or postoperatively. These cases of undetected gum occurred despite patient and staff compliance with their current preoperative checklists. While the risk of increased gastric secretions related to chewing gum preoperatively are not known, the potential for airway obstruction if the gum is not detected and removed preoperatively is very real. We recommend that patients should be specifically advised to avoid gum chewing once fasting from clear fluids is commenced, and that a specific question regarding the presence of chewing gum should be added to all preoperative checklists.

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