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The Sniffing Position

critical language designed to elevate your airway practice

by Brendan Tarantino


Putting your patient in the sniffing position facilitates intubation by reducing the angle of approach to the trachea. It can be achieved by putting your patient’s head on an object such as a pillow, folded towels/sheets/blankets, a piece of foam, or anything else that will raise the head with the atlanto-occipital joint extended. The ideal sniffing position puts the ear and sternal notch of the patient in the same horizontal plane.

The sniffing position can also improve oxygenation. In order for oxygen to make it to your patient’s lungs, the path has to be clear. When your patient is unconscious, their tongue may fall back and obstruct their airway, blocking that path. Additional techniques, such as the head-tilt-chin-lift maneuver or the jaw thrust can be helpful, but ideally, you want to open the airway with a method that gives you two free hands. Often the sniffing position can accomplish this task.

Dive Deeper

Now that you understand this term, you can check out the link below to see it in the clinical context of one of our PAC learning spaces to better understand its meaning.


Positioning The Head For Intubation Christine Whitten, MD

Intubation Positioning: Beyond Sniffing Katie Colton, MD, Charles Caffrey, MD, Andrew Pirotte, MD

The Critical Language Project is a part of the Protected Airway Collaborative

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