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Acute upper airway obstruction

  • Alternative Names

    Airway obstruction - acute upper


    If the person has a complete obstruction and is unable to speak or breathe, the Heimlich maneuver may be lifesaving.

    Treatment depends on the cause of the blockage.

    • Objects stuck in the airway may be removed with a laryngoscope or bronchoscope.
    • A tube may be inserted into the airway (endotracheal tube or nasotracheal tube).
    • Sometimes an opening is made directly into the airway (tracheostomy or cricothyrotomy).

    Support Groups

    Expectations (prognosis)

    Prompt treatment is often successful. However, the condition is dangerous and may be fatal, even if treated.


    Inability to relieve the obstruction can cause:

    • Brain damage
    • Breathing failure
    • Death

    Calling your health care provider

    Airway obstruction is an emergency. It is a good idea to learn how to clear an airway of a foreign body by using a method such as the Heimlich maneuver.

    Diseases in which airway obstruction develops over a period of hours will allow time to get to a hospital. If an acute airway obstruction occurs, call 911 or your local emergency number for medical help. Do what you can to maintain breathing until medical help arrives.