Bronchoaspiration or choking is the accidental inhalation of liquids or foods through your respiratory tract. This generally occurs in people that are unconscious, are highly intoxicated or in babies.
According to the Medelineplus website, some of the symptoms that occur when vomit or regurgitation suddenly occur include difficulty breathing, violent coughing, stridor (noisy breathing), dysphonia (changes in the tone or intensity of one’s voice), cyanosis (blue or purple coloration of the skin) and a loss of awareness. This happens when food, foreign particles like toys or liquids (such as saliva) accumulate in the mouth and move towards the bronchial tubes upon breathing, which obstructs the respiratory tract.
When this occurs, it is recommended to extract the object or substance that is obstructing the respiratory tract through using first aid techniques and, depending on the seriousness of the situation, by going to the doctor and following their recommendations.
Preventive measures for patients that are highly intoxicated and for babies is to lay them face down or on their side. With young children, it is very important for parents to watch that they do not put small objects in their mouths.
Why does bronchoaspiration happen?
The trachea is generally protected by a small fold of cartilage called the epiglottis. The trachea and the esophagus share a common cavity in the back part of the throat and the epiglottis acts as if it were a lid that covers the trachea each time you swallow. This allows for food to pass through the esophagus and stops it from going down the trachea.
Sometimes the object or piece of food can enter the trachea and completely obstruct air from going through. If the flow of air to and from the lungs is obstructed and the brain stops receiving oxygen, this gagging reflex can turn into an episode of choking due to inhalation: a life-threatening emergency.