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The Basics of EMT Airway Evaluations and Management

Greg Gerkens

A former assistant principal, Greg Gerkens has over a decade of experience as a teacher and educational administrator. In his spare time, Greg Gerkens volunteers as a New York state-licensed Emergency Medical Technician (EMT).

One of the most important aspects of EMT care is airway management. This is where an EMT evaluates the condition of the patient’s respiratory processes - is the patient breathing normally (ventilation), is the breathing adequate to support absorption of oxygen into hemoglobin in the blood (oxygenation), and is the exchange of gases in the lungs (respiration) taking place effectively?

Problems with any of these processes can be diagnosed by assessing the patient’s breathing and physical appearance. For example, difficulty breathing indicates ventilation problems while pale lips and skin indicate inadequate oxygenation.
If there is a problem with any of these processes, the EMT has to determine the cause and then find a solution to help the patient breathe better. For example, ventilation problems can be attributed to internal factors such as allergic reactions and infections or to external factors such as blockage of the airway by a foreign object. With this knowledge, the EMT can take an appropriate mitigating response such as positioning the patient in a way that supports ventilation.

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