An airway can become obstructed or blocked by food, broken teeth, snow or dirt driven into the mouth. A child’s airway might be blocked by a sweet, nut, small toy or an object they have been playing with.
An unconscious patient’s airway may be blocked by the tongue falling across the back of the throat, or by fluids such as blood, mucus or vomit. Repositioning the head and removing obvious obstructions may open the airway. Upper airway infections can narrow and, in some cases, block the airway. Signs of infection are a sore throat, drooling and difficulty swallowing. To assist a patient with these signs, reposition their head to open the airway, reassure them and seek medical help.
PARTIAL OBSTRUCTION SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
The patient will be coughing and spluttering and will usually clutch their throat. They may be wheezing and have difficulty speaking in full sentences.
Forceful coughing may dislodge the object. Encourage the patient to cough and spit out the object. Reassure them, as this is a frightening experience. The patient is not getting enough oxygen if:
• They have increased breathing difficulties.
• They have an ineffective cough. • They make high pitched noises when inhaling.
• Their skin is looking pale or is going blue around their lips. If they show any of these signs and symptoms, treat as for a full obstruction.
EXTENDED CARE AND EVACUATION GUIDELINES
If coughing fails to remove the obstruction, the patient needs to be evacuated. Even if the patient is breathing adequately despite the object, evacuate them quickly. The foreign object may irritate the airway, causing swelling and further difficulty breathing.