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Healthy Living

Suffocation And Artificial Respiration

  • Your Respiratory System

  • Causes of Suffocation

  • Signs and Symptoms

  • Management

  • Respiration

    Respiration means breathing in and breathing out of air. This function is necessary to supply oxygen (of the air) to all the organs in the body. Stoppage of oxygen supply to the organs results in death, sooner or later.

    The Respiratory System

    The organs connected with respiration are the Air Passages and the Lungs:

    The Air Passages

    The air passages consist of the nose, the throat (pharynx), the wind pipe (trachea) and the two air tubes (bronchi). The bronchi divide into minute branches (bronchioles) which end in the lung substance (alveoli)

    The Lungs:

    The Lungs are two in number and are situated on the right and left sides of the chest cavity. Each Lung is made up of a number of small sacs called alveoli. The Lung is covered with a membrane called pleura, which lines the inner wall of the chest cavity also.

    The Mechanism of Respiration:

    During inspiration (breathing in) the diaphragm (the muscle separating the chest cavity) flattens and increases the chest capacity from above downwards. The ribs move upwards and forwards increasing the capacity of the chest cavity from front to back by the action of the muscles situated between the ribs. The lungs thus expand and air enters them.

    During expiration (breathing out) the reverse process takes place. The diaphragm comes back to its original state and ribs fall back, thus forcing the air out of the lungs.

    Small blood vessels (capillaries) surround the alveoli and the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide takes place takes place through the blood circulating in the capillaries. Oxygen is absorbed from the blood and water vapour and carbon dioxide are let out from the blood plasma in to the alveoli.

    The lungs are also supplied with nerves that are connected to an area in the brain called the Respiratory Centre. This centre controls respiration.

    Suffocation (Asphyxia)

    Asphyxia is a condition in which the lungs do not get sufficient oxygen supply of air for breathing. If this continues for some minutes breathing and heart action stops and death occurs.


    • Conditions affecting the air passage
      • Spasm
        • Food going down the wrong way into the air passage.

        • Water getting into the air passage, as in drowning.

        • Irritant gases (coal gas, motor-exhaust fumes, smoke, sewer and granary has, gas in deep unused wells.) getting into the air passage.

        • Bronchial Asthma.

      • Obstruction
        • Mass of food or foreign body such as artificial teeth etc in the air passage.

        • Tongue falling back in an unconscious patient.

        • Swelling of tissues of the throat and as a result of scalding ( boiling water) or injury, burns and corrosive.

      • Compression
        • Tying a rope or scarf tightly around the neck causing strangulation.

        • Hanging or throttling (applying pressure with fingers on the wind pipe).

        • Smothering like overlaying an infant: and unconscious person lying face downwards on a pillow, or plastic bags, or sheets covering face completely for some time.

    • Conditions affecting the Respiratory Mechanism.
        • Epilepsy, Tetanus, Rabies etc.

        • Nerve diseases causing paralysis of chest wall or diaphragm.

    • Conditions affecting Respiratory Centre
        • Morphine, barbiturates (Sleeping tablets):
        • Electric Shock, Stroke
    • Compression of the Chest
        • Fall of earth or sand in mines, quarries, pits or compression by grain in a silo, or big beams and/or pillars in house-collapse.

        • Crushing against a wall or other barrier or pressure in a crowd.

    • Lack of Oxygen at high altitudes with low atmospheric pressure,where acclimatisation – (gradual ascent) is necessary.

    Signs and symptoms

    Phase I

    • Rate of breathing increases
    • Breath gets shorter
    • Veins of the neck become swollen
    • Face, Lips, nails, fingers and toes turn blue.

    • Pulse gets faster and feebler

    Phase II

    • Consciousness is lost totally or partially.
    • Froth may appear at the mouth and nostrils.
    • Fits may occur.

    Note: Even after breathing has stopped the heart may continue to beat for ten to twelve minutes. In such cases it is possible to restore breathing by artificial respiration, and bring the casualty back to life.


    The important things to do are:

    • Remove the cause if possible or remove the casualty from the cause.

    • Ensure an open airway to allow the air to reach the lungs. Place the individual on his back. Support the nape of the neck on your palm and press the head backwards. Then press the angle of the jaw forward from behind. This will extend the head on the neck and lift the tongue clear off the airway. If the airway is opened by this method the individual gasps and starts to breathe. Give three to four inflations to the lungs to facilitate breathing by mouth-to-mouth method. If the heart is beating, carotid pulse can be felt at the base of neck. (Pulse at wrist may not be felt).Continue to ventilate the lungs until breathing becomes normal.

    • Prevent damage to the brain and other vital organs (which will occur due to the lack of oxygen) apply artificial respiration to ensure prompt ventilation of the lungs, and if necessary, do external cardiac compression.

    • Continue artificial respiration until natural breathing is restored it may be necessary to continue for a long time unless a doctor advises to stop in case of double you should rather continue longer than stop early. Take help from other available in case of need.

    • Keep the body warm using light blankets.

    • Provide shelter to the casualty (at least with an umbrella)


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