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What are Some Causes of Asphyxia?

By Garry Crystal
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Asphyxia, or suffocation, is caused by a severe lack of oxygen to the body. If the lack of oxygen is prolonged or if no medical action is taken to combat the deficiency, then unconsciousness and death will occur. It has many different causes, most of which are accidental.

One of the most common reasons for asphyxiation is choking. A lump of food blocking the airways will cause suffocation due to a lack of oxygen. The amount of time it takes to reach unconsciousness by this method is very rapid. Help can be provided through techniques such as the Heimlich maneuver, but in a number of cases, the person is alone and unable to gain assistance.

Other very common deaths by suffocation are drowning and inhalation of vomit. Inhalation of vomit has a very high incident rate among people who have alcohol or drug abuse problems. People can pass into unconsciousness and then begin to vomit. Because they are not aware, they can begin to choke, and unless assistance is given, death can result.

Asphyxia can also be the result of strangulation, which could be accidental or deliberate. Suffocation will occur very rapidly if a person constricts another person's airways. Similarly, hanging is an extremely quick way to die by asphyxiation.

There is also chemical induced asphyxia. If chemicals such as carbon monoxide are inhaled, a person will suffocate. A common suicide is death by carbon monoxide poisoning, the result of breathing car exhaust fumes in an enclosed area.

Any type of constriction to the chest or abdominal area can cause suffocation. Severe pressure placed on the center of the body will make it very difficult for the person to breathe. Known as compressive asphyxia, this is a popular method of hand-to-hand combat used by the military.

An asthma attack can also bring about asphyxiation. Severe asthma attacks in which the sufferer is unable to use an inhaler have been known to end in death because the person cannot get enough air into the lungs. Suffocation has also been known to occur due to sleep apnea, which is a breathing problem that occurs when a person stops breathing during sleep. If the sleeper does not wake up or start breathing again, then the lack of oxygen could cause death.

A number of divers have been killed due to asphyxia. The differential in the gas mixture that they breathe in shallow water can cause unconsciousness. In cases that do not result in death, there is still a severe risk of brain damage.

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Discussion Comments
By anon965364 — On Aug 11, 2014

@anon328612---The whisky is the problem; it shouldn't be mixed with those medications. It should say that on the medicine bottle. All of those medications and the alcohol are known to cause drowsiness, so the chances are that you were in such a deep sleep, that your body actually forgot to breathe.

By anon328612 — On Apr 04, 2013

Last night I awoke choking and gasping for air. It lasted quite a few seconds, then stopped, then happened again a couple of times only for a second or two each time. Yesterday, late afternoon, I took one Lorazepam, at evening time I had a few drinks of whiskey, late evening I took my other meds of Dilantin (2 100 mgs), Lyrica (1 200 mgs), and Trazodone (1 50 mgs). It was the first time I took Trazodone, which is intended to help me sleep due to pain that keeps me awake. This choking is the first time this has happened. Could this be serious, and if so who should I see?

By anon277047 — On Jun 27, 2012

Is it really that fast to die from exhaust fumes if the fumes are piped inside the car? I've heard of people being pulled from cars after they had been in the car breathing the fumes for a while and survivedm or maybe I have that wrong.

By anon269362 — On May 17, 2012

Neurons in the brain generally begin misfiring (causing bodily malfunctions) after three minutes (assuming a health adult who has not trained to hold his breath like a SCUBA diver or Navy Seal!). Neurons will gradually die off from three minutes to six minutes. At about six minutes, enough neurons will have died so that brain function effectively stops and the individual is dead.

Generally, if revived before three minutes, the individual can fully recover. Between three and six minutes, the degree to which someone can be revived and, if revived, what brain functions will be intact are variant.

For obvious reasons, the topic lacks significant research to support firm claims.

By anon169154 — On Apr 20, 2011

can it be caused due to roadside accident cases? if yes, how, and give reasons.

By JessiC — On Apr 12, 2011

@Eviemae - As long as intervention is made in a timely manner, people who have been asphyxiated can recover. However, the longer a person is deprived of oxygen the more difficult this normally is.

By Eviemae — On Apr 10, 2011

Another common kind of asphyxia is birth asphyxia. This is when, for any number of reasons, a baby is born without enough oxygen and are not able to breath well enough on their own. I know that some of these children recover and grow up to be quite normal. Can others who suffer from the types of asphyxia listed above do the same?

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