Encyclopedia of Family Health - Vol. 15

By David B. Jacoby; Robert M. Youngson | Go to book overview

Suffocation

Questions and Answers

Can someone suffocate by
swallowing his or her tongue?

Yes. If someone swallows the
tongue and blocks the internal
airways, suffocation will result
unless first aid measures are given
immediately. You should not try
to pull the tongue back into its
correct position. Lie the person on
his or her back with the head
tilted backward. Pull the chin
forward so that the tongue falls
backward and creates a space
through which air can flow, then
give mouth-to-mouth
resuscitation if necessary, and
keep the chin forward at all costs
until expert help arrives. Never
leave the victim unattended.

My daughter sleeps with her head
under the blankets. Am I right to
worry that she might suffocate?

It is very unlikely that your
daughter will be at any risk from
suffocation by sleeping in this
way. Not only are blankets
porous, but if the waste carbon
dioxide built up to a dangerous
level in your daughter’s blood, her
body’s natural defense mechanism
would come into operation and
force her to come up for air in
good time.

I was in a very crowded train and
worried that I might be
suffocated. Would this have been
possible, and could I have
prevented it?

Being pressed in a crowd can be
frightening and dangerous too. If
you feel there is a real risk of
suffocation, position your hands
near your face to create an air
space between you and the next
person. Or try to make
movements with your head to
create the same effect. Above all,
don’t panic, since this could
endanger your own safety and
that of other people in the crowd.
Panic can quickly infect a crowd.

Suffocation is a medical emergency in which the body’s airways are prevented from conducting oxygen to the lungs, through accident, a blockage of the airway by a foreign body, or disease.

Suffocation has a variety of causes, but common to all is that the body is deprived of oxygen. Norma I ly, as a breath is taken in through the mouth or nose, air enters the body and travels down a series of tubes to expand the lungs. To help make lung expansion possible, the ribs are pulled up and out and the muscular diaphragm below the lungs is pulled downward. In tiny sacs (alveoli) in the lungs, the oxygen in air breathed in is exchanged for waste carbon dioxide. Oxygen now enters the bloodstream and, assisted by the pumping of the heart, is carried to all parts of the body. Gas rich in carbon dioxide is breathed out as the rib cage contracts and the diaphragm retracts upward (see Breathing; Diaphragm).

About 16 times a minute, for an entire lifetime, this mechanism continues without the need for conscious control. The body also has a built-in emergency mechanism designed to protect vital organs from lack of oxygen, particularly the brain, in which cells begin to die after only five minutes without oxygen. If for some reason the amount of oxygen in the blood falls and the carbon dioxide content rises, this change is monitored by cells in the brain. In response, breathing becomes deeper and more rapid, and the blood vessels to all but essential areas are shut down. If necessary and possible, the body moves to a situation where more oxygen is available.

Despite the body’s fail-safe mechanism, suffocation can occur from within the body if the airway is so obstructed that oxygen is prevented from reaching the alveoli or, having reached them, is prevented from reaching the blood. Choking on swallowed objects, swallowing the tongue in accidents, swelling of the tissues of the airways as a result of disease, or an intense allergic reaction can all cause suffocation. Even if oxygen enters the lungs, suffocation will result

In crowded places such as bleachers in sports venues, there is a danger of
suffocation if someone trips and gets trapped underneath other people
.

-2118-

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Encyclopedia of Family Health - Vol. 15
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Spastic Colon 2022
  • Specimens 2024
  • Speculum 2027
  • Speech 2028
  • Speech Therapy 2032
  • Sperm 2034
  • Sphygmomanometer 2036
  • Spina Bifida 2037
  • Spinal Cord 2040
  • Spleen 2044
  • Splinters 2047
  • Splints 2048
  • Sports Injury 2050
  • Sports Medicine 2052
  • Sprains 2056
  • Stammering and Stuttering 2058
  • Staphylococcus 2062
  • Starch 2063
  • Stem Cell 2065
  • Stenosis 2067
  • Sterilization 2068
  • Steroids 2072
  • Stethoscope 2074
  • Stiffness 2076
  • Stillbirth 2080
  • Stimultants 2083
  • Stitch 2086
  • Stomach 2088
  • Stomach Pump 2091
  • Strangulation 2094
  • Streptococcus 2097
  • Stress 2098
  • Stress Management 2103
  • Stretch Marks 2105
  • Sty 2112
  • Subconscious 2114
  • Sudden Infant Death Syndrome 2116
  • Suffocation 2118
  • Sugars 2120
  • Suicide 2122
  • Sunburn 2126
  • Sunstroke 2130
  • Suppositories 2132
  • Surgery 2134
  • Surrogacy 2141
  • Sutures 2144
  • Swellings 2145
  • Symptoms 2149
  • Syphilis 2153
  • Syringing 2156
  • Index 2158
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