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Basic Airway Management

basic airway management

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A compromised airway will need prompt recognition and correction using basic airway management techniques. 

Basic airway management is an essential skill for health professionals, even bystanders.

What is airway management?

Basic airway management is the practice of assessing, planning and using a series of medical procedures to maintain or restore proper ventilation or breathing.

Maintaining an open airway is the utmost priority in treating a severely injured victim. In that way, the air can freely flow from the person’s nose and mouth into their lungs.

Airway management is a vital skill for emergency practitioners to master and is fundamental to the practice of emergency medicine.

Even some bystanders are encouraged to learn the very basics of oxygenation and ventilation for CPR emergencies. These include patients with airway obstruction, respiratory failure, aspiration risk, or any condition requiring airway protection.

Failure to secure an open pathway in situations where it may be required can reduce blood oxygen levels.

Signs and Symptoms

The indicating symptoms of airway obstruction will solely depend on the cause and its location.

Common symptoms may include:

  • agitation
  • cyanosis (or having bluish-coloured skin)
  • sudden confusion
  • alterations in the breathing pattern (rapid or shallow)
  • difficulty breathing or no breathing
  • gasping for air
  • panic
  • high-pitched breathing noises (stridor/stertor), which produces wheezing-like sounds
  • decreased breathing sounds in the lungs
  • cardio-respiratory arrest
  • unconsciousness

The age group with the most risk for airway obstruction are children ages four and below. It is because they have smaller airways, which are prone to choking and blockage of the airways.

Older adults are also susceptible to airway obstruction as the aging process itself is a risk factor.

Other risk factors may include underlying conditions such as neurological problems, history of severe allergies, structural abnormalities, and certain mental health problems.

Effective Airway Management

Maintaining a patent airway can be challenging and require focus from the responder. As such, it is a good idea to know the methods and steps to achieve the goal of effective airway maintenance and ventilation.

Recovery position

An unconscious victim with a clear airway and is breathing normally will need to be placed onto their side or the recovery position.

Putting the victim in the recovery position helps maintain a clear airway, facilitate drainage, and reduce the risks of inhaling foreign material.

If a person is unconscious, has a clear airway and is breathing normally, place them onto their side in a recovery position.

Clearing the airway

Clear the airway before administering cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Remove any foreign material visible to reduce the risk of flowing into the lungs.

Use fingers in removing the blockage and, if necessary, place the person into a recovery position to assist clearance. Tilt the face slightly downward to allow any loose objects or liquid to drain from the mouth.


Bag valve mask ventilation (BVM) is an airway management technique that allows for oxygenation and ventilation of casualties until another definitive airway control is established.

BVM technique uses a self-inflating bag attached to a nonrebreathing valve with a face mask that conforms to the face. The opposite end of the bag connects to the oxygen source. These will help ventilate the person through the nose and mouth.

Bag-valve mask ventilation is an effective emergency treatment for sleep apnea, respiratory failure and impending respiratory arrest.


Intubation refers to the insertion of a tube through the victim’s mouth or nose into the airway. It is one of the cornerstones of emergency airway management, only performed by medical practitioners during surgery.

Intubation aims to aid with breathing, deliver anesthesia or medications, and bypass a blockage.

Nasal Airway

The nasopharyngeal airway (NPA) is a soft tubular device used as an alternative option for opening up the airways.

The device is specifically designed to support the nasal route, which aids breathing and control airway obstruction.

Continued Airway Management

Even after the victim is successfully resuscitated, it is important to monitor for other signs of airway impairment. A newly revived casualty may start vomiting or bleeding, which increase the risk of aspiration.

It is best to comprehensive respiratory assessment and be prepared to perform airway management tips above.

With prompt and effective basic airway management, airway obstruction can be treated successfully. However, tiny blockages in the air passages are extremely dangerous and can be fatal.

Seek immediate medical attention if you or someone nearby is experiencing symptoms indicating an airway obstruction.

Get Trained

Basic airway management is an essential technique for medical practitioners in taking care of individuals in critical situations. It involves a series of maneuvers and procedures to maintain or restore airway function.

Airway obstruction, respiratory failure, and unresponsiveness are some situations that may require the application of this technique. Depending on the cause, advanced or basic airway management may be used.

The most effective way to learn basic airway management techniques is by signing up on a Provide advanced resuscitation and oxygen therapy course (HLDAID015).

Enrol now and save lives tomorrow.

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