In this month’s guide, we’re going to introduce you to the concepts behind airway management, which deals with a person’s ability to breathe. For various reasons, airways can become blocked, causing a person to not be able to breathe – this could be due to an unconscious patient’s tongue blocking his or her airway, or it could be due to a foreign object blocking the airway such as food or other debris.
During a collapse situation, you might encounter an unconscious person; if you can render aid and you have time to do so, you should check to see if the person is breathing. There are specific ways in which to approach an unconscious person. Here’s how to do it:
- Approach the casualty from the casualty’s feet, if at all possible. This ensures that should the person regain consciousness, he or she can see you and won’t be startled.
- Gently tap or shake the person and ask “are you okay”. A surprising amount of people are prone to fainting. There is no need to launch into extensive emergency medicine when a simple shake and call will do the trick. Remember, don’t over think this.
- If there is no response, gently roll the casualty on his or her back. This is the easiest position in which to assess and treat a person. NOTE: if there is any sign of injury to the head, neck or spine, you should not move the casualty; you’ll need to seek more qualified assistance. Moving a casualty with a spinal injury could result in paralysis or death.
- If you do roll the casualty onto his or her back, make sure you position their arms pointed down and straighten their legs so they roll easily. Then, roll the casualty as one unit, keeping their head, neck, and spine straight. Get and assistant to help you if required.
- Sometimes, when a person is unconscious, their muscles relax to the point that their tongue rolls backwards into their throat and blocks the air from entering. Sometimes, just moving the tongue out of the way causes the casualty to start breathing again. The best way to move the tongue is using the head tilt chin lift method. To do this, kneel at the level of the casualty’s shoulders, then place one of your hands on the casualty’s forehead and apply firm pressure to tilt the head back. Place the fingers of your other hand under the bony part of the casualty’s jaw and gently bring the chin forward. See the diagram (inset). Lift the chin until the upper and lower teeth almost meet, but do not close the mouth.