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You spot someone lying beside some nearby wreckage. You call out to them and rush to their side, but they make no noise. As you get closer you see that they are unconscious. Nothing is visibly wrong with them, but on close inspection you discover that they are not breathing. What do you do?

Airway Obstruction is the second of the three killers. Breathing, as we all know, is essential for life, which is why a blockage in the airway can be so fatal. While the amount of time can vary, generally without oxygen brain cells begin dying off within a minute, and serious brain damage can occur within five minutes. With so little time it is unlikely that first responders will get to someone quickly enough if their airway is obstructed, meaning that you and other survivors in a disaster are a victim’s first and best hope.

But this article will not teach you how to perform the Heimlich Maneuver or CPR. Yes, the Heimlich Maneuver can remove an object from an airway, but in an emergency it is unlikely that someone will be choking on an object. CPR, meanwhile, only works if an airway is unobstructed to begin with. Airway obstruction requires a different treatment, though it is much simpler to perform. Yet while it is a relatively simple problem to fix, it is one of the three killers because it is so subtle.

The Problem With the Tongue

In an emergency it is very likely that a victim will become unconscious. Falling, fainting, or being struck in the head can all happen for a variety of reasons. When this happens the tongue can become a problem. As long as there is a pulse, the body will naturally try to keep breathing even when unconscious, but when knocked out during a disaster the tongue can sometimes fall into the back of the throat and obstruct the airway. This is the main cause of airway obstruction, and it can kill unconscious victims even if they are otherwise completely healthy.

The Head-Tilt/Chin-Lift Method

The method for combatting airway obstruction in an emergency is very simple. First, you’ll need to check if there is anything in the back of a victim’s mouth obstructing the airway and remove it with a finger. While the tongue is the most common problem in this situation you should check for anything else just in case. Next, you need to utilize the Head-Tilt/Chin-Lift Method if the victim does not have head or neck injuries or fractures. The name says it all: with the victim lying face upward on the ground, tilt the their head back and lift their chin up. This will pull their tongue up and away from their airway, opening it up and allowing the victim to breathe. If they do have head or neck injuries you will need to use a modified method. Putting your fingers under the bottom side of the jaw right beneath the ears, push or pull their head upward instead of tilting. This will accomplish the same thing. Shortly after performing either of these methods the victim should begin breathing again.

With this knowledge you will be able to prevent many unnecessary deaths if you are ever in an emergency situation. While it may seem like a simple problem it is a deadly one, and your quick thinking and careful actions can mean the world for someone else. Next week we will explain how to defeat the third and final killer: Shock.  And if you want to learn more right now, buy our special BERT training program to understand the Three Killers today, along with medical triage, family safety planning, and so much more!


Legal Disclaimer: This is not intended as legal or practical advice in any situation. BERT’s Purpose and the purpose of this article is to provide ideas and potential resources for consideration.

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