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Asphyxia or asphyxiation is a condition of severely deficient supply of oxygen to the body. In the absence of remedial action it will very rapidly lead to unconsciousness and death. Asphyxia is the same as suffocation. Anoxia means the pathological state in which tissues do not get (enough of) oxygen.

Asphyxia in humans is a medical emergency.

Causes of asphyxia can include:

  • Physical obstruction of the passage of air to or from the lungs:
  • Breathing in low oxygen environments, for example:
    • the filling of cryogenic vessels with liquified, oxygen-free gases such as nitrogen in an enclosed space
    • workers climbing down into a fermentation vat in a brewery, not realising the vessel has filled with carbon dioxide gas
    • workers climbing down into the holds of ships that contain heavier than air, oxygen-free gases
    • the misuse or failure of diving rebreathers where the breathing gas contains insufficient oxygen
    • breathing a hypoxic breathing gas mixture while diving in shallow water where the partial pressure of oxygen is too low to support consciousness. A hypoxic "bottom gas" is designed only to be breathed at depth.

Problems during childbirth can lead to the newborn experiencing asphyxia (asphyxia neonatorum).

Prolonged asphyxia can result in brain damage even when it does not cause death.

Recently, asphyxia by carbon monoxide has become a popular suicide method, especially in Japan where suicide pacts involving several individuals are more common. [1] During the period of the Ottoman Empire, strangling with silk rope was a form of capital punishment specified for members of the royal family, who by Ottoman rule could not have their blood spilled.

See also: