Airway Obstruction

Last Updated: October 21, 2018

Definition - What does Airway Obstruction mean?

Airway obstruction refers to a condition in which a blockage of the airways causes a reduction of airflow to or absorption of oxygen by the lungs. This blockage may occur in any part of the complex system of passages responsible for delivering air to the lungs. Airway obstructions may be mild or severe, chronic or acute.

Airway obstruction differs from airway restriction. When a person experiences airway obstruction, there is a swelling or blockage of some portion of his or her air passages. In contract, a restriction of the airways is caused when a person cannot fully expand his or her lungs to inhale.

Symptoms of an airway obstruction may include agitation, difficulty breathing, gasping for breath, panic, wheezing, cyanosis (bluing of the skin), confusion, or loss of consciousness.

Mild cases of airway obstruction may be treated with medication or pulmonary rehabilitation or oxygen therapy. Severe cases of airway obstruction may be life-threatening. In such instances, emergency procedures may be necessary to prevent death.

WorkplaceTesting explains Airway Obstruction

Numerous health conditions can cause temporary or chronic airway obstruction. For instance, a cold may cause nasal congestion that causes a temporary blockage of a person's upper airway. Conditions such a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are characterized by persistent obstructions. Suffers of COPD may experience mucus build up in the airways that blocks airflow. In some instances, COPD is caused by inflamed or thickened bronchial tubes.

Sleep apnea is often characterized by airway obstruction that occurs when an individual is sleeping. This temporary blockage to the flow of oxygen to the brain causes the sufferer to jerk awake or sleep restlessly. Assistive equipment such as a CPAP or APAP machine is often used to help keep the sleeper's airways open at night.

Airway obstruction may also be caused by foreign objects, such as a small toy or a piece of food. This acute airway obstruction can be fatal if not immediately treated. Similarly, allergic reactions can cause bronchospasms or swelling that causes a life-threatening airway obstruction.

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