Signs, Causes and Classification of Asphyxia

What is Asphyxia?

Asphyxia, also known as respiratory failure or disruption, is a condition where there is insufficient or no oxygen reaching the brain. Sometimes the resultant unconsciousness culminates in death.

Classification of Asphyxia

► Mechanical

Physical or mechanical asphyxia is one variety of asphyxia. It occurs when something or a force prevents you from breathing. it can be classified in following:


Physical obstruction of mouth/ nose – preventing effective breathing

Smothering can be partial or complete; partial suffocation means that the person is still able to breathe, albeit less than is necessary. Smothering typically results in suffocation only when the mouth and nasal passages are at least partially blocked.


Physical obstruction in the upper respiratory tract

Any irritant that enters the airway and irritates the lungs and bronchial tree can make someone gag. These irritants cause the airway to constrict, shielding the body from potentially harmful substances.


Physical obstruction in the lower respiratory tract

A foreign object, such as food, water, a toy, etc., can partially or completely restrict the food pipe or the throat, causing choking. Choking is a type of asphyxia in which there is little or no oxygen flow to the body, which can result in unconsciousness or, in severe cases, death.


Pressure applied to neck, by means of ligature or hands

Asphyxia caused by the closing of the blood vessels and/or air passageways of the neck as a result of external pressure on the neck is known as strangulation. Hanging, ligature strangulation, and manual strangulation are the three basic divisions.


Pressure applied to neck by ligature, constricting force being weight of own body

Asphyxial death from hanging is brought on when the body is suspended by a ligature around the neck, with the weight of the body acting as the constricting force.


Obstruction to respiration due to pressure applied to chest and/or abdomen

By compressing the body and inhibiting breathing, compressive asphyxia, also known as chest compression, mechanically restricts lung expansion. The terms “traumatic asphyxia” and “crush asphyxia” typically apply to compressive asphyxia that happens when someone is trapped or crushed by a powerful force, or in a crowd crush.

► Non-mechanical


Reduction of oxygen in the respired air

Reduced atmospheric oxygen tension, often known as PAO2, or reduced partial oxygen pressure, causes suffocation by lowering the oxygen tension in the air that is inhaled.

Carbon monoxide poisoning

Obstruction to transportation of oxygen by hemoglobin

This is a gas that is produced when various fuels are burned, and it has no colour or smell. Carbon monoxide poisoning can occur after inhaling a lot of the gas.

Cyanide poisoning

Obstruction to utilization of oxygen in the cell.

It prevents oxygen from getting into cells.

Hydrogen Sulfide

This gas has a rotten egg odour. It can come from natural gas, sulphur hot springs, sewage, and liquid manure. It can prevent oxygen from entering in cells if person breathe in too much.

► Miscellaneous

Drowning – A form of violent asphyxial death, wherein the entry of air into the lungs is pre-vented by water or other fluids due to the submersion of mouth and nostril.

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Signs and Symptoms of Asphyxia

Any of the following symptoms can lead to asphyxia.

  • Difficulty and/ or noisy breathing, which may ultimately lead to cessation
  • Rapid pulse
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Cyanosis of the face
  • Swollen veins on the head and neck
  • Convulsions
  • Paralysis
  • Slowly losing consciousness

Causes of Asphyxia

Asphyxiation can occasionally be quite obvious when it occurs. Any of the following can result in asphyxia:

● Choking from food, blood, vomit or broken teeth

● May also occur in unconscious victim when the tongue falls to the back of the throat

● Chest compression or collapsed lung, from road accidents or any penetrating injury to the chest

● Drowning or near drowning

● Gas poisoning

► Carbon monoxide poisoning from home appliances releasing fumes or released by car exhaust or other toxic fumes

● Electrical accidents

● Strangulation

►From attempted suicide by hanging or attempt to kill another person by placing grasping the neck

● Suffocation

● Severe asthma attack or bronchitis

● Whooping cough

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