Signs of Asphyxiation

Asphyxiation occurs when the body is deprived of oxygen. One common cause of asphyxia is choking, although other medical and environmental conditions, such as complications during general anesthesia or smoke inhalation, are also possible causes. Asphyxiation, by its definition, ends in the victim dying from the inability to draw further breath and supply her brain with oxygen.

Victims of asphyxia may have bloodshot eyes due to burst capillaries. Credit: Freila/iStock/Getty Images

Breathing Difficulty

The hallmark sign of a person undergoing asphyxiation is an inability to breathe normally. This may manifest as wheezing, clutching at the throat, agitation or loss of consciousness. Often, an afflicted person will turn blue from lack of oxygen and will gasp for breath but be unable to get air. If you see someone who is unable to breathe, call medical professionals immediately.


Following asphyxiation, a characteristic foam may form in the airways, according to ENotes. This occurs when lung mucus mixes with air in the trachea as the victim unsuccessfully attempts to breathe. This foam can be found in the lungs or the throat and is typical in cases of drowning.

Neck Injury

An important sign of asphyxiation is evidence of a neck injury that prevents normal breathing. Look for a physical obstruction around the neck that cuts off the victim's air supply. Neck bruises, a bleeding neck or broken neck bones signal a possible cause of asphyxiation. Victims also inflict neck wounds with their fingernails as they claw at their throats in an attempt to breathe.


Asphyxiation victims often display bloodshot eyes. Their eyes may look reddish with small red or purple splotches, according to ENotes. This condition occurs because of a build-up of pressure within the head, leading to small capillaries bursting in the eyes. These small hemorrhages also can occur in the face, neck and lungs.

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