It’s a major problem we face in treating the injured or unconscious: keeping the airway open. How do you keep an unconsious person from “swallowing his tongue”? (which is the layperson’s way of explaining the danger of a limp tongue muscle bunching up in the back of the throat making it impossible to breathe).
The easiest way to do it is to turn the person on their side. But what about those who are injured in accidents? Turning them or flexing their head back will clear the airway, but could damage the spinal cord. Yes, there is a manuever called the “chin tilt” but it’s difficult to do.
So as a result, passerbys often stick a spoon in the mouth or a similar object to try to keep the person from “swallowing his tongue”. And often that can lead to vomiting and aspiration, or even pushing the tongue down making things worse.

So what do you do?

After the London subway bombing, which killed 56 people and injured over 800, some art students decided to see if they could design something easy to use to keep the airway open until trained personnel arrived.

Voila: The Tongue Sucker.

Unlike other devices, which have to be positioned correctly to be useful, the tongue sucker applies suction on the tongue, allowing the rescuer to pull the tongue, which is essentially a large muscle, forward. This pulls the back of the tongue out of the airway, allowing people to breath. 

Essentially, you open the mouth, find the tip of the tongue, squeeze the bulb to start suction, put the suction tip over the tongue, and then stop squeezing the bulb. The suction pulls the tongue tip forward enough to clear the airway.

Animated vesion of “The Tongue Sucker” can be found HERE.

Will it work? I don’t know. But I suspect if it does, it will save lives.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the Philippines. Her webpage is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket, and she writes medical essays at Hey doc Xanga Blog 

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