What Types of Airway Management Equipment Are There


Airway management is a critical component of every first responder’s job. The right equipment is key, from clearing the airway of secretions to managing complex aspiration cases and assessing causes of respiratory distress.


Airway management equipment falls into five broad categories, with several options within each. Theses five types include:


  • Facemask ventilation devices, which may use additional attachments
  • Supraglottic airway devices
  • Tracheal intubation
  • Suction machines for airway clearance
  • Transtracheal access


Here’s what you need to know about each.


1. Face Mask Ventilation

Face mask ventilation is a vital skill for all medical providers. This intervention may be appropriate when a person shows signs of hypoxic respiratory failure, apnea, an inability to protect the airway, or an altered mental state caused by exertion or hypoxia. Proper position of the head, neck, and jaw is critical to ensure proper oxygen delivery


This approach to ventilation is versatile and uses a wide variety of equipment, including bag-based masks. A proper seal is key to the functioning of this equipment.


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2. Supraglottic Airway Devices

Supraglottic airway devices open the upper airway to allow for unobstructed ventilation. They may also replace some other airway management devices. According to research, supraglottic airway devices successfully provide rescue ventilation in more than 90% of patients for whom tracheal intubation and mask ventilation are impossible. Though effective, these devices may also increase the risk of airway damage and pulmonary aspiration. It’s important to not that these risks may increase in severely obese patients. 


3. Tracheal Intubation

Tracheal intubation uses a wide range of devices to insert a tube into the airway through the throat. The tube often provides life-saving ventilation but can also be used to clear the airway or even to deliver medication, particularly in a hospital setting.

The wrong technique can injure the airway or increase the risk of aspiration, so the right equipment and a clear understanding of airway anatomy are critical.


4. Transtracheal Access

Transtracheal equipment accesses the trachea directly, usually via an incision in the neck. Tracheostomy is commonly used in patients with advanced chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Emergency transtracheal access may also be necessary when conventional intubation fails. In emergency situations, a cricothyroidotomy involves an emergency incision providing airway access. For example, when traditional ventilation fails or is contraindicated, transtracheal access may be the only option for a hypoxic patient.


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5. Airway Clearance

A variety of options can suction the airway, clearing obstructions and secretions. Manual suction devices are simple handheld devices that use a pump to suction the airway. Suction machines offer a more advanced, stable, and reliable option. 


The right portable emergency suction machine clears the way for other airway management equipment, prevents and treats life-threatening emergencies, and improves patient outcomes. For help choosing the right device for your agency, download our free guide, The Ultimate Guide to Purchasing a Portable Emergency Suction Device.


Editor's Note: This blog was originally published in July 2022. It has been re-published with additional up-to-date content.