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Acute upper airway obstruction

Contents of this page:

Illustrations

Throat anatomy
Throat anatomy
Choking
Choking
Respiratory system
Respiratory system

Alternative Names    Return to top

Airway obstruction - acute upper; Choking

Definition    Return to top

An acute upper airway obstruction is a blockage of the upper airway, which can be in the trachea, voice box (laryngeal), or throat (pharyngeal) areas.

Causes    Return to top

Causes of acute upper airway obstruction include:

Symptoms    Return to top

Symptoms vary depending on the cause, but some symptoms are common to all types of obstruction.

Exams and Tests    Return to top

Physical examination may show:

Tests are usually not necessary, but may include:

Treatment    Return to top

If the person has a complete obstruction and is unable to speak or breathe, the Heimlich maneuver may be lifesaving.

Treatment depends on the cause of the blockage.

Outlook (Prognosis)    Return to top

Prompt treatment is often successful. However, the condition is dangerous andĀ may beĀ fatal, even if treated.

Possible Complications    Return to top

Inability to relieve the obstruction can cause:

When to Contact a Medical Professional    Return to top

Airway obstruction is an emergency. It is a good idea to learn how to clear an airway of a foreign body by using a method such as the Heimlich maneuver.

Diseases in which airway obstruction develops over a period of hours will allow time to get to a hospital. If an acute airway obstruction occurs, call 911 or your local emergency number for medical help. Do what you can to maintain breathing until medical help arrives.

Prevention    Return to top

Prevention depends on the cause of the upper airway obstruction. See the individual diseases in the above section for more information.

The following methods may help prevent an obstruction:

References    Return to top

Manno M. Pediatric respiratory emergencies: upper airway obstruction and infections. In: Marx J, ed. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2006: chap 166.

Thomas SH, Brown DFM. Foreign bodies. In: Marx J, ed. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2006: chap 57.

Update Date: 2/11/2009

Updated by: A.D.A.M. Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Greg Juhn, MTPW, David R. Eltz. Previously reviewed by Jacob L. Heller, MD, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington, Clinic (10/2/2008).

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