How to Assess an Upper Airway Obstruction
Upper airway obstructions are partial or complete blockages of the upper airway (larynx, pharynx and mouth). Upper airway obstructions can occur rapidly and the patient can literally die within minutes, so recognition of the condition and urgent treatment is paramount.
The causes of an Upper Airway Obstruction include:
The tongue falling backwards blocking the larynx in the unconscious person;
Swelling of the nasal passages, oral cavity, larynx or pharynx due to: burns, allergic reactions, infection, trauma, cysts, or tumors;
Foreign bodies, such as fluid, saliva, vomit, blood, food false teeth, broken teeth, and just about anything people can imagine they can eat;
How do you actually assess an upper airway obstruction?
Look for inadequate air moving through the nose or mouth;
Listen for complete silence (in a complete obstruction), inspiratory stridor (incomplete obstruction)
Chest movement may have a see-saw type of appearance. In infants it may be possible to see intercostal recession and inspiratory in-drawing of air spaces.