Traumatic asphyxia occurs when a powerful compressive force is applied to the thoracic cavity. This is most often seen in motor vehicle accidents, as well as industrial and farming accidents. However, it can present anytime a significant pressure is applied to the thorax.
Signs and symptoms
Traumatic asphyxia is characterized by cyanosis in the upper extremities, neck, and head as well as petechiae in the conjunctiva. Patients can also display jugular venous distention and facial edema. Associated injuries include pulmonary contusion, myocardial contusion, hemo/pneumothorax, and broken ribs.
The sudden impact on the thorax causes an increase in intrathoracic pressure. In order for traumatic asphyxia to occur, a Valsalva maneuver is required when the traumatic force is applied. Exhalation against the closed glottis along with the traumatic event causes air that cannot escape from the thoracic cavity. Instead, the air causes increased venous back-pressure, which is transferred back to through the right atrium, to the superior vena cava and to the head and neck veins and capillaries.
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