Emphysema, surgical: The abnormal presence of air in tissues underlying the skin following injury or surgery. Surgical emphysema most often occurs as a complication of pneumothorax.

Bibliography: I. Medicine, Popular-Dictionaries. I.morgan, Peter, 1927- .II. Canadian Medical Association.III. Reader's Digest Association(Canada). IV. Title: Home medical encyclopedia

Also known as subcutaneous emphysema, it occurs in veterinary medicine as well as human medicine, especially if tracheal tearing occurs when an animal is extubated after surgery. And it's bizarre!

An owner called our emergency clinic a few hours after her cat's spay surgery, claiming that her kitty was "swollen everywhere" and wouldn't stop crying. On the phone, we figured she was just being over-protective, and that she was probably exaggerating the normal post-surgical swelling of the incision site because she was so worried about her little darling. But we advised her to bring the cat in, just in case.

We had underestimated the owner's assessment of the situation. The cat's body looked like a water balloon with a grape balanced atop it. The air trapped under her skin made this strange, cellophane-esque crackling noise wherever she was touched. She was literally blowing up like a balloon!

So the vet took a 16-guage needle, (which, by the way, is really quite huge,) inserted it just under the cat's skin, and she and I together rubbed the cat's body, starting as far away from the needle as possible, and running our hands toward it, thereby allowing the air to escape from the needle's hub. During this procedure, the cat became more and more comfortable, but the air escaping her body made an eerie "hisssssssssssss"ing sound, like a tire deflating. Quite alarmingly like a tire deflating, in fact.

The cat had to have three or four more "deflation" treatments before her trachea began to heal and the subcutaneous emphysema went away.

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