Your Expert Guide to Inserting Oropharyngeal Airways the Right Way

Apr 26, 2022

Your Expert Guide to Inserting Oropharyngeal Airways the Right Way

Respiratory failure is a serious and potentially deadly event that requires immediate attention. Fortunately, timely airway management can help prevent permanent damage and save lives. When standard airway management steps (e.g. repositioning the airway, suctioning, etc.) don’t provide enough relief for the patient, caregivers must take further action.

One way that medical professionals can help manage the airway is by using airway adjuncts such as an oropharyngeal airway or Guedel airway. So, what is a Guedel airway, and how and when should you use one?

What is oropharyngeal airway?

Oropharyngeal airways — also known as a Guedel airway or OPA — is a type of airway adjunct designed to help medical caregivers combat airway obstructions that may be exacerbating or causing respiratory failure. It is one of the most simple and basic airways and has been in use for over a century.

These tools have four distinct parts: a body, a tip, a flange and a channel. They are available in a wide range of sizes suitable for both adults and children.

What is a Guedel airway used for?

Doctors and other medical professionals use the Guedel airway to help control the tongue when clearing the airway. It helps keep the airway open by moving the tongue and parts of the throat forward so that an unconscious or anaesthetised patient can still breathe.

How to insert an oropharyngeal airway in 7 steps

One of the primary indications for oropharyngeal airway insertion is unconsciousness. When a patient loses consciousness, they may inadvertently relax their jaw, which can cause the tongue to lodge itself in the airway. If a patient doesn’t respond to the jaw thrust or head tilt-chin manoeuvre, this also indicates a need for an OPA.

What is Guedel airway insertion like? After determining if the patient requires an OPA, insertion is relatively simple but still requires care and attention to ensure that you do it correctly.

Step 1: Perform any necessary primary measures to open the airway (e.g. jaw thrust).
Step 2: Select the correct airway size.
Step 3: Open the mouth and clear it of any vomit, blood, or other secretions.
Step 4: Carefully insert the OPA over the tongue. The tip should point towards the roof of the mouth.
Step 5: Gradually lead the device to the back of the throat.
Step 6: Gently rotate the OPA 180 degrees as it advances to the back of the throat. It should now be resting tip down.
Step 7: Monitor and ventilate the patient as needed.

Alternatively, after step 3, you can push the tongue down with a tongue depressor and insert the OPA with the curved body in the correct position facing the tongue. If, at any point, the patient begins to gag, immediately remove the device.

Potential complications of oropharyngeal airways

Inserting a Guedel airway requires skill, care and precision to help prevent the risk of complications. However, the fear of complications mustn’t prevent trained professionals from utilising this medical device when needed.

Understanding the potential risks associated with OPAs is the first step to avoiding them. Here are four of the most common complications of oropharyngeal airway insertions.

1. Aspiration

Inserting an oropharyngeal airway may induce vomiting, which can, in turn, cause the patient to aspirate, especially if the patient is not unconscious and still has a working gag reflex.

2. Damage to the airway, mouth, or teeth

If an oropharyngeal airway is too large for the patient, it can cause laryngospasm, which may make it difficult for the patient to breathe. Inappropriately sized or incorrectly placed adjunct airways can also damage the teeth, larynx, soft palate and other parts of the mouth.

3. Compounding the airway obstruction

If the caregiver uses an oropharyngeal airway that is too small, it’s not just ineffective but can also cause or exacerbate airway obstruction. An OPA that is too large can obstruct the airway as well.

Purchase safe and effective medical consumables at Mega Medical

Here at Mega Medical, we’re proud to provide exemplary medical devices and services for hardworking medical professionals, caretakers and patients. As one of the leading medical equipment providers in Australia, our goal is to help you find the lifesaving medical equipment you need.

Whether you’re searching for oropharyngeal airways, oxygen tanks or consumables, resuscitation equipment or something else, we can help. Reach out to our expert team today — we’ll be happy to assist you.