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What is the most common cause of airway obstruction in unconscious patients?

What is the most common cause of airway obstruction in unconscious patients?

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A. Flaccid tongue blocking the hypopharynx
B. Crush injury to the trachea
C. Foreign body obstruction
D. Edema of the vocal cords

This question is part of Pre-Hospital Trauma Life Support - 30 Mins - EMT-B
Asked by Robin, Last updated: Jan 18, 2020

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6 Answers

C. Lucan

I'm a freelance Copywriter and well that explains everything!

C. Lucan, Copywriter, Literature Major, Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Answered Oct 04, 2019

The correct answer to this question is A, Flaccid tongue blocking the hypopharynx. Though there are many reasons why this may happen, Flaccid tongue sticking the hypopharynx is the most common cause. Oftentimes, this occurs when the patient is in an unconscious state, which is when they have no control of their muscles. When they are in this state, they usually are lying on their backs.

The tongue is a muscle, and when unconscious, the tongue can block the hypopharynx and hinder breathing or stop the patient from breathing altogether. This mainly happens to those who have throats that are narrow.




Answered Apr 18, 2019

Though in the case of this test, the answer might be the tongue, in reality this is not the case. A study was conducted in 1985 by Dr M.P.Boidin to determine the causes of upper airway obstructions in unconcious patients.

"In the cadaveric preparations it was obseved thatthe tongue did not usually reach to the posteriorpharyngeal wall, because it was attached mainly tothe posterior aspect of the mandible at the chin.When the tongue of the cadaver was pushed forciblyinto the mouth, obstruction occurred mainly at thelevel of t he soft palate—by closure of the natural oralairway. When more pressure was exerted, thenatural nasal airway was occluded also, the softpalate being pushed against the posterior pharyngealwall. In the lower pharynx, two mechanisms ofobstruction occurred—which were independent ofmanipulation of the tongue. The base of t he epiglot-tis closed over the trachea and the rims of t he epi-glottis came into contact with the posteriorpharyngeal wall and could close the respiratorytract. The visible part of t he epiglottis, the pars glot-tica, could extend into the oesophagus and so protectthe interarytenoid fold from contamination withforeign material."Boidin, M. (1985). Airway Patency In The Unconscious Patient.British Journal of Anaesthesia,57(3), 306-310. doi:10.1093/bja/57.3.306

In essence, it is not the tongue(at least not alone) that causes airway obstructions in unconncious patients, but rather the epiglottis.


M. Krasinski

M. Krasinski, Content Writer, Columbus

Answered Jul 20, 2018

It is A. The flaccid tongue blocking the hypopharynx. This usually happens when the patient is unconscious and is lying on his back. Being unconscious means that he does not have any control of his muscles in the meantime. The tongue is a muscle and it can block the hypopharynx effectively which can stop the person from breathing normally. This is also more common for people who have narrow throats.

They will have a harder time breathing because of their tongue. Take note that patients who are also comatose may experience this condition more than other patients who are also unconscious. Other times, the obstruction may be caused by an infection.


H. Jones

H. Jones, Web Content Writer, San Antonio,

Answered Jul 11, 2018

There are various causes of the obstruction in the airway of people when they are unconscious but the most common reason is the flaccid tongue that is currently blocking the hypopharynx. It should be noted that the tongue is considered to be a muscle and it has the tendency to be strong.

When it is flaccid, it is strong enough to block the air passage so the unconscious person will have a harder time breathing. This is most common in comatose patients. The flaccid tongue is the most common type of obstruction but take note that there are still other objects that can cause obstructions and should be removed immediately such as dentures.


S. Nicole

Content Writer, Teacher

S. Nicole, Wordsmith, PG In Journalism, New York

Answered Jun 01, 2018

There are many causes of airway obstruction in unconscious patients like foreign body aspiration, edema of the oropharynx and larynx, trauma, etc. But the most common cause is Flaccid tongue. Hence, the correct answer is -Flaccid tongue blocking the hypopharynx.

It has been proved that the tongue can block the airway if its muscles relax and fall back into the pharynx. Hence, A flaccid tongue is the most common cause of airway obstruction in unconscious casualties.

This is mostly seen in patients who are comatose or suffering from cardiopulmonary arrest.Some other objects like dentures can also lead to airway obstruction in unconscious patients.


John Smith

John Smith

Answered Mar 22, 2017

Flaccid tongue blocking the hypopharynx

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