Every parent should be familiar with compression asphyxia, which probably is better known to laypeople simply as suffocation, and how the risk is created with very small children.


Asphyxia is defined as suffocation due to interference with the oxygen supply of the blood; it may be caused by obstruction of the airway by a foreign body, a lack of oxygen in the air, or inhalation of gas that prevents the uptake of oxygen into the bloodstream. Since well oxygenated blood is bright red the blueness you see is a lack of fresh oxygen.


Compression asphyxiation is in the news as the cause of death of a 3-year-old infant who was sleeping in a metal futon-style bed, became trapped and was later discovered. The matter was ruled an accident and a preliminary autopsy report found the boy died as a result of compression asphyxiation, also called chest compression. He must have gotten caught between the rails, was unable to breath and to free himself which obstructed his breathing causing the death.


For those interested in reading more about forensics’ investigation and the importance of scene investigation see PubMed.gov lists a relevant article, An unusual case of compression asphyxia and smothering, Am J. Forensic Med. Pathol., 1986 Dec; 7(4):354-5. Scene investigation is an important part of the medicolegal autopsy. In many cases the cause of death cannot be determined without knowledge of the circumstances. A case is presented in which the diagnosis of compression asphyxia and smothering was made only after analysis of the scene findings.


An Unusual Case of Compression Asphyxia and Somethering. Taff, Mark L.; Wolodzko, Andrew A. M.D.; Taff, Mark L. M.D.; Ratanaproeska, Opas M.D.; Spitz, Werner U. M.D. [Miscellaneous] American Journal of Forensic Medicine & Pathology. 7(4):354-355, December 1986.


Miyaishi S, Yoshitome K, Yamamoto Y, et al. Negligent homicide by traumatic asphyxia. Int J Legal Med Jan 14 2004.


Abstract: We presented an unusual case of negligent homicide by thorax compression, which is the expanded concept of traumatic asphyxia. A 58-year-old man was restrained in the prone position by six prison officers. They were ordered by their superiors to continue restraining him for about 15 min and the victim died. At the forensic autopsy, typical findings of thorax compression with intramuscular hemorrhages on the back and multiple fractures of the ribs were observed. No evidence of neck compression/smothering or other fatal issues likely to occur by chest compression was found. The reconstruction of the scene corresponded exactly with the localization of the injuries found in the victim. This is the first case of death by pure thorax compression without other fatal factors during intentional restraint, in which the force causing the chest compression was distinctly determined by the autopsy and reconstruction.

Steve Lombardi
Iowa personal injury, workers' compensation, motorcycle, quadriplegic, paraplegic, brain injury, death
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