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How should I clear a person's airway in an emergency?

 Dr. Kathleen Handal, MD
Emergency Medicine
Sometimes an obstruction has caused the victim to stop breathing. Here's how to open a victim's airway and clear an obstruction:

  • The most common cause of airway obstruction is the tongue. To keep the airway open perform the head-tilt, chin-lift. Place one hand on the victim's forehead and put the fingers of your other hand under the bony part of the chin. Press down on the forehead and lift out the chin so that the mouth is slightly open. If you suspect a spinal injury, do not press down on the forehead nor tilt the head back. Simply perform a chin lift. The victim may start to breathe after you open the airway. If the victim is breathing, and no spine injury is suspected, place in the Recovery Position (on his/her side (preferably left) extending the lower arm above the head).
  • If an obstruction to the airway is visible in the back of the mouth and the victim is unconscious, remove the object with your index finger.  (Gloves should be worn.)
  • Never place your fingers in the mouth of a conscious or semiconscious individual. If the victim is conscious, give first aid for Choking.

If the airway is clear check breathing.
Doc's First Aid Guide: Read It Before You Need It

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Doc's First Aid Guide: Read It Before You Need It

In a medical emergency, time is of the essence. "Doc's First Aid Guide" is an illustrated, first-aid pocket handbook designed to be used as a quick reference and includes the latest CPR guidelines....

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.