Introduction

The upper airway includes the nose, mouth, pharynx, larynx, and external thoracic trachea. Obstruction presents to the intensivist in two main settings: acute patient presentation to the intensive care unit (e.g. facial trauma); associated with mechanical ventilation (e.g. secretions, airway edema).

Signs and symptoms of upper airway obstruction may present acutely (e.g. foreign body), insidiously (e.g. decline in conscious state), or progressively (e.g. laryngeal edema postextubation). Obstruction may prove rapidly life threatening and must be managed with vigilance and expedience.

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