Rapid assessment of the patency of an airway and timely intervention to clear any obstruction are fundamental to the management of an injured player.

An obstructed airway will rapidly lead to hypoxia, hypercarbia and deterioration in the player’s condition. Ultimately an obstructed airway may lead to death. It is due to the severity of this condition that it is placed at the beginning of the primary survey. In other words, once the practitioner has determined that it is safe to approach the player, the first thing to assess (and treat if necessary) is the airway. This is usually in conjunction with cervical spine control.

Most episodes of airway obstruction can be easily managed with simple manoeuvres. The key to successful management is early recognition, and a high index of suspicion should be maintained for actual or potential airway compromise. Situations requiring more advanced interventions are rare in sport, but practitioners must be aware of the possibility of airway obstruction and be ready to manage it appropriately should the need arise.