The Importance of Checking the Airway

This blog reminds us of the importance of running through a simple, structured approach when managing an unconscious casualty. It can happen at any time – not just in work!

The structured approach was used by Lynnette Marshall, a dental nurse from Pontcanna Dental Care, Cardiff, to save the life of a lady on a bus. She had attended her annual CPR update training only weeks prior. This example focuses primarily on the importance of checking (or clearing) an airway.

Lynnette was on her way home from work on the bus where she noticed some commotion from the seats opposite. Another passenger was becoming distressed whilst trying to rouse their relative who had apparently lost consciousness.

Adopting the “D.R.A.B.C.D.E” approach, Lynnette recognised that the situation was dangerous due to the moving bus. She immediately alerted the driver to the situation. He ensured the bus was stopped and all other passengers were asked to get off.

Lynnette then tried to see if the lady was responsive, she was not. With the help of another passenger Lynnette was able to get the casualty onto the floor where she could carry out the rest of her assessment.

She then assessed the casualty’s airway. She couldn’t see any fluid or blockage. Recognising that the tongue could still be causing a problem, she used the “head tilt – chin lift” technique to move the casualty’s tongue off the back of the airway. With this the casualty took a deep breath, started breathing normally and the colour returned to her face. She soon regained consciousness just before the Paramedics arrived.


By assessing for danger, response and airway in a structured approach, Lynette prevented further injury to her and anyone else trying to help.

By using the “head tilt chin lift” technique, Lynette prevented unnecessary CPR. Had she not assessed and opened the casualty’s airway, the casualty would have continued to be unable to breathe and would have required CPR.

Lynnette later said that during this situation she reverted to her training without thinking about it too much. It was only after the event that she felt ‘shaky’ as the enormity of what happened became apparent.

There is no doubt that a life was saved on the bus that day. Well done Lynnette!

This example shows how the simplest techniques, when used effectively, make all the difference. The need for regular training (as provided to Lynette by her employer) in first aid and basic life support should not be underestimated. These situations can arise at any time so make sure you’re prepared!

Many thanks to Lynette Marshall and Pontcanna Dental Dare for giving us permission to use the above information in our blog. 

What is an Automated External Defibrillator?

A defibrillator is the machine we use to deliver electrical energy to the heart during an abnormal or very rapid erratic rhythm (Ventricular Fibrillation). Electrodes placed on the casualty’s chest deliver a measured electrical shock to the heart to restore natural rhythm.

When was the defibrillator invented?

The first use of an external defibrillator on a human was in 1947 by Claude Beck.

The portable version of the defibrillator was invented in the mid-1960s by Frank Pantridge in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He was a pioneer in emergency medical treatment.

How does a defibrillator work?

Automatic external defibrillators (AEDs) are small computerized devices that analyze heart rhythms and provide the shock needed for defibrillation.

Through electrodes placed on a patient’s chest, a processor inside the AED analyzes the victim’s heart.

The machine will not shock unless it is necessary. AEDs are designed to shock only when VF is detected.

After the AED analyzes the heart rhythm and determines a shock is required, an electric current is delivered to the heart through the victim’s chest wall through the adhesive electrode pads.

The shock delivered by a cardiac defibrillator interrupts the chaotic rhythm and allows it to return to normal.

Male chest with defibrillator pads attached

It makes a big difference

With CPR alone, the chance of survival after sudden cardiac arrest is less than 5%. When CPR is combined with the use of a cardiac defibrillator within the first few minutes, the chance of survival can increase dramatically to more than 75%.

Having an AED on hand gives victims of sudden cardiac arrest the best chance of survival until Paramedics arrive and take over care. 

For further information or to learn CPR & how to use a defibrillator, click here.

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