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Alternative Names Return to topAirway 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 and may be 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).