Basics of Asphyxial Deaths

An asphyxial death refers to a multi-etiologic set of conditions in which there is inadequate delivery, uptake and/or utilization of oxygen by the body’s tissues/cells, often accompanied by carbon dioxide retention. This episode will introduce the listener to the four primary classifications of asphyxial deaths, which are; mechanical, inert-gas, environmental, and pathological.   The podcast will cover each classification and describe how the deaths occur and what investigators need to know to properly determine death due to asphyxial means.

A common form of suicidal asphyxia is caused by the use of inert-gas.  These deaths may also be accidental when located in an area compromised by a high level of gas.  An inert gas is a gas that has no toxic or anesthetic properties and does not act upon the heart or hemoglobin. Instead, the gas acts simply to reduced oxygen concentration in the blood to dangerously low levels, thereby eventually depriving all cells in the body of oxygen.

Some common inert gases are;

  • Argon
  • Halon
  • Helium
  • Nitrogen
  • Methane

This podcast also covers the asphyxial death classification of environmental asphyxial death. Environmental Asphyxia is due to insufficient oxygen in the environment. Deaths are almost always accidental. An oxygen concentration of 16% or less is dangerous, and with 5% concentration, consciousness is lost rapidly and death occurs within a few minutes. Environmental asphyxia deaths are typed in four manners:

  1. Confined Space
  2. Positional
  3. Compression
  4. Entrapment or Engulfment

The final classification discussed in this course is pathological asphyxia. Pathological is dealing with or attributable to disease or medical condition.  These asphyxial deaths are caused by such things as anaphylaxis, pulmonary edema, and COPD.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *