What Does Asphyxiate Mean? Gasping for Air Explained.

Asphyxiation is the condition where the body is deprived of oxygen and unable to take in air, leading to difficulty in breathing and ultimately death in severe cases. This article aims to explore the meaning of asphyxiation, its causes, symptoms, and prevention measures. It is essential to understand how asphyxiation occurs and how to react appropriately in situations that cause it.

What is asphyxiation?

Asphyxiation, also known as suffocation, happens when the body is deprived of oxygen, leading to a lack of airflow in the lungs. There are four types of asphyxiation, including:

  • Environmental Asphyxiation: It results from oxygen deficiency due to being in an oxygen-deficient environment, such as when diving deep into water bodies.
  • Mechanical Asphyxiation: This happens when outside forces restrict airflow into the lungs, such as people sitting on someone’s chest.
  • Chemical Asphyxiation: Happens after inhaling toxic gases or fumes, smoking or drinking too much, or inhaling carbon monoxide.
  • Positional Asphyxiation: Happens when one’s position restricts their breathing or airflow, such as sleeping in a facedown position.

Symptoms of asphyxiation

The symptoms of asphyxiation depend on the type and severity of the condition. They include:

  • Shortness of breath or struggling to breathe.
  • Gasping for air.
  • Increased heart rate.
  • Loss of consciousness.
  • Bluish coloration of the skin.

    What causes asphyxiation?

    Asphyxiation may be caused by several factors, including:

    • No or little air circulation in the environment, for instance, choking or drowning.
    • Physical constriction of the airways by a foreign substance, such as food particles, bee stings, or an asthma attack.
    • Poisonous gases or chemicals such as carbon monoxide or sulfur dioxide.
    • Compression of the chest, such as someone sitting on another’s chest.
    • Sleeping in a face-down position.

    Preventing asphyxiation

    Asphyxiation is a life-threatening condition and should be avoided at all costs. Prevention measures include:

    • Learning basic first aid skills such as the Heimlich maneuver for choking.
    • Ensuring that the airway is kept clear and free from obstruction.
    • Installing carbon monoxide detectors in every room of your house.
    • Not sleeping on your stomach, especially if you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
    • Avoiding smoking around others.
    • Avoiding hazardous environments where poisonous gases or chemicals could cause harm.

    Reacting to asphyxiation

    When someone appears to be having difficulty breathing, here is what to do:

    • Call 911 or emergency services immediately.
    • Move the patient to a well-ventilated area away from toxic fumes, smoke, or other harmful substances.
    • If the victim has stopped breathing entirely, perform CPR until help arrives.
    • If the victim is choking, perform the Heimlich maneuver.


    Asphyxiation is a life-threatening condition that affects the brain and other organs due to a lack of oxygen. There are different methods that asphyxiation may occur, but it can always be prevented. Furthermore, early recognition of the symptoms of asphyxiation and appropriate reaction could mean the difference between life and death. Stay safe, be aware of the risk factors, and always take preventive measures.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    Below are some of the most common questions about asphyxiation and their answers:

    • Q: What is asphyxia and what are the symptoms?

      A: Asphyxia is a medical condition in which the body is deprived of oxygen, resulting in unconsciousness or death. Symptoms of asphyxia include difficulty breathing, blue skin, and loss of consciousness.
    • Q: What causes asphyxiation?

      A: Asphyxiation may be caused by an external force that restricts the airflow into the lungs, oxygen deficiency, carbon monoxide poisoning, or the chemical inhalation of poisonous gases.
    • Q: What should you do if someone is suffocating or choking?

      A: Call 911 immediately if someone is suffocating or choking. If the adult or child choking becomes unconscious, perform CPR. If the victim is choking, perform the Heimlich maneuver.
    • Q: What is the Heimlich maneuver?

      A: The Heimlich maneuver is a first-aid technique used to dislodge an object that is obstructing the airway. The technique involves standing behind the person, wrapping your arms around them, and using your hands to exert pressure on the abdomen.
    • Q: How is asphyxiation diagnosed?

      A: Asphyxiation may be diagnosed through a physical examination or imaging tests such as X-rays, MRI, or CT scans. However, most diagnoses of the condition are typically made by investigating the patient’s history and performing a thorough physical examination.


    • Airey, R., & Gabbott, D. (2018). Oxford Handbook of Emergency Nursing. Oxford University Press.
    • Bajwa, A. (2015). Suffocation and Asphyxia. Elsevier Health Sciences.
    • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Asphyxiation. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/asphyxiation/default.html.

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