Presence of foam during CPR

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We know that it’s important to clear an unconscious person’s airway before assessing the casualty’s breathing and providing further assistance or commencing CPR. If there is vomit, blood, sand or mud blocking the airway it must be cleared.

However, in some instances – particularly with drowning victims – a foamy or frothy fluid may be present which should be ignored, and CPR started as soon as possible. 

In the past, the direction was to try and clear foam too. But now, clearing foam has been recognised as causing a dangerous delay in CPR and the reversal of hypoxia.

Our lungs naturally contain mucus that helps keep them clean and well lubricated for normal lung function. If a drowning person inhales a small amount of water, it mixes with the mucus in their lungs. This can mix with air and produce foam. 

Providing CPR, pressing on the person’s chest and blowing air into their lungs may produce more foam. Sometimes there is a lot of foam produced in the upper airway and out of the casualty’s mouth.

The Australian Resuscitation Council Guidelines advise to “avoid delays or interruptions to CPR. Do not attempt to expel or drain clear water or frothy fluid that may re-accumulate in the upper airway during resuscitation.”

So, use gloves and a mask, ignore any foam and commence CPR as soon as possible.



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