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Acute Upper Airway Obstruction


Acute upper airway obstruction is a condition in which upper airways gets blocked. Upper airways of trachea, throat (pharyngeal) or voice box (laryngeal) gets blocked in the condition due to many factors. The condition may result in life-threatening symptoms in a short span of time like respiratory failure followed by cardiac arrest. Needless to say, the condition is dangerous and requires immediate treatment. The condition is also recognized with the name airway obstruction-acute upper.

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A number of conditions cause acute upper airway obstruction like bacterial or viral infections, chemical burns and reactions, croup, inhalation or fire burns, allergic reaction, trauma, throat cancer, vocal cord problems etc. Let’s discuss little about them in detail:

  • Foreign Bodies- In children and adults, foreign bodies refer to the inhaled bits of foods. Inhaled bits of food include peanuts, hot dogs, etc.
  • Allergic reactions- Allergic reactions that cause throat swelling like bee sting, antibiotics, blood pressure medications, etc are considered as common causes of acute upper airway obstruction.
  • Epiglottitis- Acute upper airway obstruction is also the outcome of acute bacterial Epiglottitis.

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Signs & Symptoms

An important fact is symptoms of the condition are visible and easy to diagnose. Although, symptoms vary from case to case, some of the common symptoms experienced are:

  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Panic
  • Gasping for air
  • Confusion, choking
  • Agitation
  • Skin color changes to blue
  • Unconsciousness, wheezing

It has been observed that as compared to adults, children suffer from small airways that quickly deteriorate and become acute condition. Therefore, as soon as person recognize the problem, seek medical attention instantly.

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Upon the cause of acute upper airway obstruction, prevention greatly depends: Assorted below are certain methods that help in prevention the condition in adults, children and infants.

  • Eat food slowly and chew it completely
  • Before or while eating, avoid drinking alcohol
  • Fir dentures properly

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Heimlich Maneuver Modern Medicine

Treatment of the condition greatly depends on the cause of blockage. If a person is suffering from severe obstruction and feeling difficulty in speaking or breathing, then in such cases Heimlich Maneuver is recommended. If any object is stuck in airway, then same will be removed from bronchoscope or laryngoscope. In this, an endotracheal or nasotracheal tube is inserted into the airway.

Tracheostomy Modern Medicine

In some cases, opening is done directly into airways. Such process is known as tracheostomy or cricothyotomy. It is necessary to treat the condition immediately in order to avoid complications like brain damage, breathe failure, etc.

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