What is Asphyxiation?

Causes of asphyxiation

There are many possible causes of asphyxiation. Many causes are due to an airway obstruction, inhaling chemicals, or an injury.

Asphyxiation may be caused by:

Drowning is when a person can’t breathe because they’ve inhaled water. As a result, their body is unable to deliver oxygen to their tissues and organs.

In many cases, drowning happens quickly. Individuals who have a high risk of drowning include:

Chemical asphyxia involves inhaling a substance that cuts off the body’s oxygen supply. The substance may replace oxygen in the lungs or disrupt oxygen delivery in the blood.

A chemical that causes asphyxia is called an asphyxiant. One example is carbon monoxide, an odorless and colorless gas that’s found in smoke. Breathing in large amounts of carbon monoxide can cause carbon monoxide poisoning.

Chemical asphyxia may also occur if you use inhalants. These substances are often found in common household products, and they have chemical fumes that cause psychoactive effects when inhaled. In high amounts, these fumes can lead to asphyxiation.

Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction to food, medicine, or an insect sting.

What is Asphyxiation?

During anaphylaxis, the body thinks a substance is an invader. Your immune system makes antibodies, which release chemicals that cause symptoms like swelling, hives, or shortness of breath.

This includes swelling of the upper airways. Without treatment, the swelling can get worse and disrupt breathing.

Asthma is a chronic condition that causes inflammation in the airways. It can cause symptoms like difficulty breathing and wheezing.

During a severe asthma attack, your airways swell and constrict. Without immediate treatment, the airways can become too narrow and cut off oxygen supply.

An asthma attack can be triggered by:

Choking happens when a foreign object is stuck in the airway. This makes it difficult to inhale oxygen.

For example, choking may occur if a person incorrectly swallows food. It can also happen due to an alcohol overdose. High amounts of alcohol can reduce a person’s gag reflex, potentially causing them to choke on their own vomit.

Strangulation happens when pressure is placed on the neck by a hand, ligature, or other object. This can reduce a person’s ability to inhale oxygen. It can also hinder oxygen circulation in the body.

If a person’s body is in a position that blocks the airways, it’s called positional asphyxia. This can occur if the body position interferes with normal inhalation or oxygen circulation.

Newborn babies and infants are at high risk of positional asphyxia. That’s because they’re unable to reposition themselves to unblock their airways.

When a person has a seizure, they may experience pauses in breathing called apnea. These pauses can interfere with their oxygen intake.

The convulsions during a seizure can also cause an object to block or cover the person’s airways, resulting in asphyxiation.

An overdose of a drug, like opioids, can interfere with the brain’s ability to regulate breathing. In turn, the person is unable to breathe deeply and exhale carbon dioxide. This increases their carbon dioxide levels and reduces oxygen in the body.