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Protecting and improving the airway

Last reviewed dd mmm yyyy. Last edited dd mmm yyyy

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Protection of the airway can involve:

  • insertion of an airway if appropriate. Choice airway depends on the level of consciousness of the patient:
    • patient with signs of airway obstruction but relatively conscious, try a nasopharangeal airway
    • patient with signs of airway obstruction and impaired level of consciousness, try an oropharangeal airway
    • unconscious and unable to protect their airway, needs a definitive airway ie. intubation and insertion of endotracheal tube
  • for improving and protecting the airway:
    • if the airway is poor, for example if laryngeal swelling has occurred, i.e. due to smoke inhalation, then the decision to intubate may be made
    • intubation may similarly be performed early if laryngeal oedema appears likely to develop
    • attempts at intubation should be made for as long as the clinician can hold his or her own breath


  • people need to be less conscious to tolerate an oropharangeal airway; but if cannot tolerate an oropharangeal airway, may tolerate a nasopharangeal airway

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