There are 3 axes within the airway:
- Oral axis (OA)
- Pharyngeal axis (PA)
- Laryngeal axis (LA)
The axes are not inline with each other, each axis has its
own angle and direction. When we elevate the head, this flexes
the lower cervical spine and brings the PA and LA closer together.
When we tilt the head, this extends the atlanto-occipital
joint thus bringing the OA closer to the other axes (this
is know as the sniffing position). Therefore, the chin lift
successfully brings the axes closer together and makes a straight
path for air to pass easier.
The chin lift and jaw thrust (also known as the modified
jaw thrust) also perform the vital function of taking the
tongue out of the way. This is accomplished because the tongue
is attached to the mandible and gets displaced with it. Why
is this so important? With unconscious people, the tongue
loses its tone and blocks the airway. The tongue is actually
the most common cause of airway obstruction.
Note that if you suspect neck trauma, never move the head
or neck because you may aggravate the fracture by further
displacing it and possibly affecting the spinal cord. This
could make the victim paraplegic for life. In spinal cases,
you cannot perform a head tilt and lift but you perform a
jaw thrust with a chin lift to get the tongue out of the way.
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