Acute upper airway obstruction

An acute upper airway obstruction (UAO) is a blockage that occurs in your upper airway. The upper airway of your respiratory system consists of the trachea, larynx or voice box, and throat. A blockage in your airway could prevent your body from getting enough oxygen.



A lack of oxygen can cause brain damage, and even a heart attack, in a matter of minutes. Any obstruction of the upper airway has the potential to be life-threatening. Seek emergency medical attention immediately if you suspect that you, or someone you know, has an obstructed upper airway.



What can cause the obstruction?


Three of the most common causes of acute UAO are:









Your airway can also be obstructed if you inhale a foreign object or food.





Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that can happen within minutes of coming into contact with an allergen. An allergen is a substance that triggers an allergic reaction in your body.



Anaphylaxis can be fatal. During an anaphylactic reaction, your airway swells and obstructs your breathing. Peanuts and bee stings are among the most common anaphylaxis-causing allergens. Some people are allergic to certain medications, such as penicillin, that may cause a severe reaction.





Epiglottitis is a condition that occurs as a result of the epiglottis becoming swollen. The epiglottis is a flap of cartilage that covers the opening of your windpipe. Swelling may be caused by anything from an infection to simply drinking coffee that’s too hot. Epiglottitis can block the flow of air to your lungs, and it can be potentially life-threatening.





Croup is a condition that usually causes a harsh, barking cough. The barking cough is caused by an inflamed windpipe and vocal cords. The swollen windpipe causes the vibration of your vocal cords to sound different. Croup isn’t considered to be a severe condition, and it can usually be treated at home.



Foreign objects


Inhaling a foreign object, like a nut or bead, can cause acute UAO. A foreign object can get stuck in your throat or other air passage, causing an obstruction. While foreign objects can be inhaled accidentally at any age, this is most commonly seen in toddlers and small children.

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