EAR, NOSE & THROAT
Upper Airway Obstruction
Any obstruction in the upper airways requires treatment. The upper airways are similar to the airways in the sky. If you have ever been on an airplane, you have felt the airways. When the airways are clear, you may notice you arrive at your destination quicker. In a storm, you experience a lot of turbulence, and the ride becomes choppy and bumpy. When the airways in the respiratory system are clear, air flows freely; oxygen can come into the body and carbon dioxide can flow out of the body. Any obstruction in the upper airways makes breathing difficult. Like that airplane, breathing can become choppy and thin. It may even stop altogether.
Several things can obstruct your airways. Airway obstruction can be either caused by a foreign object, inflammation or enlargement of parts of the throat. Allergic reactions have the potential to be very serious. Eating something you are allergic to can cause severe inflammation that completely closes your airways. The obstruction normally happens in the throat or trachea. Allergic reactions are common with peanut allergies and certain antibiotics. Airways can also be obstructed through burns. If you drink something acidic or accidentally ingest a chemical, your airways may be obstructed from a chemical burn.
Symptoms of Upper Airway Obstruction
If you have an upper airway obstruction, you typically know. Symptoms include a change in skin color, agitation, coughing, and choking. The body attempts to remove the object first by making you cough or create a choking sensation. If the obstruction is a result of inflammation, you will experience more gasping, wheezing, and in some cases unconsciousness. Some obstructions are only noticeable in sleep creating obstructive sleep apnea. Symptoms of these obstructions include snoring or daytime sleepiness related to a drop in oxygen levels during sleep.
Infections are a cause of a lot of airway obstructions. Most infections are related to the epiglottis. The epiglottis covers the trachea to prevent food and drink from going down the windpipe. The swelling in the epiglottis may block the trachea and prevent the air from getting down into the lungs. Infections of any part of the upper airway can become an obstruction. Other obstructions can come from swelling of the tonsils and adenoids. The adenoids sit behind the nasal cavity. The inflammation of the adenoids may block the air that enters through the nose. The tonsils are two masses of tissue that sits in the back of the throat. When these masses swell, they block the throat and normally during sleep, prevent air from entering through the trachea. Tumors and abscesses also cause obstructions. Tumors may grow in any area of the throat and narrow the airway. Foreign objects such as food may get stuck in the throat; this too will become an obstruction. Airway obstructions must be removed. Breathing is essential to living; therefore, obstructions must be taken seriously.
Treating Upper Airway Obstruction
Treatment of airway obstructions varies. Treatment is dependent upon the source of the problem. Treatment may require medication, surgery, or other devices. In instances where the airways are completely blocked, an endotracheal tube will be placed in the throat to open it up. Other extreme cases may require a slit being made in the throat. For people with serious health conditions, a tracheotomy may be required for life. When dealing with infections, antibiotics are the best form of treatment. When antibiotics are not working, and infections become recurrent, surgery is the next step.Recurrent infections may be a result of enlarged tonsils and adenoids. These tissues are not necessary for adulthood. Removing these structures will open up airways and decrease the number of infections.
Allergy-related obstructions require medication. If an obstruction is from seasonal allergies, antihistamines and decongestants are the best methods of treatment. Any severe allergic reactions to food require the immediate use of an EpiPen. Hospitalization is usually required for a serious allergic reaction. For less severe reactions, Benadryl is a common treatment. Any obstruction from foreign objects needs to be removed with tools. The tools used depend on what object is obstructing the airway as well as where the obstruction is located. Tweezers may be used for small obstructions in the nose, but other obstructions may require the use of special instruments. Anytime obstructions are related to obstructive sleep apnea; treatment is normally done during sleep. These devices keep the airways open either by manipulating the jaw or by blowing air into the airways throughout the night. Devices commonly used are mouthguards, chinstraps, and a CPAP machine.
Upper airway obstructions are no fun. It is a serious problem if you cannot breathe. Some airway obstructions are more serious than others. Whenever the airways are completely blocked, this creates serious health problems. Lack of oxygen to the body will eventually lead to death. If you notice airway obstructions, be sure to see your physician. You may need surgery to remove those obstructions. Anytime you cannot breathe at all or find yourself gasping for breath seek medical attention immediately. This may be a result of an object stuck in your throat or some inflammatory response from an allergic reaction or infection. The good news is there are treatments available for airway obstructions.If the obstruction is treated immediately, the prognosis is good. Any delayed treatment may lead to brain damage or in the case of obstructive sleep apnea, result in heart conditions. The best thing to do is take notice of any obstructions in your airways. Get the treatment you need and take back control of your breathing.
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