Suffocation, denotes a suspension of the most important vital function, namely, that of respiring or breathing : without which animal life cannot be supported.
This dangerous casualty may arise from various causes, such as the want of air to a person immersed under water; or the irruption of that fluid into the chest; in which case it is rermed Drowning (see that article). It is also occasioned by too great a determination of blood to the lungs, as in quinsies, suffocative catarrhs, etc.
Another cause of suffocation, is the introduction of any substances into the windpipe, or the swallowing of such foreign matters as remain fixed in the gullet ; and by compression prevent the access of air to the lungs ; in which cast total cessation of breathing may be apprehended. To obviate this fatal accident, gentle percussion of the shoulders and back will be advisable: the steam of milk, or water, should be inhaled, and the throat be tickled with a feather dipped in oil. Farther, the patient ought to take copious draughts of water-gruel, milk, oil of almonds, or any other lubricating fluid ; and, if the bodies adhering to the throat be blunt, they may be thrust down by means of a long wax taper, which has been previously rendered pliable by warmth, and also immersed in oil: or, if this cannot be speedily procured, a piece of sponge may be fastened to a wire, which should be covered with leather, then oiled, and employed for a similar purpose. - See also Gullet, and Metallic pointed substances.
The vapour arising from boiling wines or strong liquors, when inhaled, tends to impede the circulation of the blood, and sometimes even produce suffocation. Similar consequences may ensue from inspiring the fumes of sulphur, antimony, and a variety of other mineral and vegetable substances, particularly of Charcoal.
External appearance of persons suffocated by the deleterious fumes arising from charcoal; various metals, such as copper, lead, antimony, and mercury; the vapours from fermented liquors, moist wood, flax, and turf; as well as in consequence of respiring or sleeping in unventilated apartments, caverns, and mines: - The head, face, and neck are swoln; the eyes are propelled from their sockets: the tongue is protruded at one side of the mouth; the jaws are firmly closed; the face is of a livid, and the lips are of a deep-blue colour; the abdomen is inflated; the body is insensible to pain, and appears to be in a profound sleep.
Immediately on discovering a person in such unfortunate situation, the windows and doors ought to be opened ; the body undressed, removed to the open air, and supported in a leaning posture on a chair. Next, the patient must be covered with flannel or blankets, the face be sprinkled with vinegar, and the pit of the stomach with cold water; and, if it be convenient, the whole body, or at least the legs, should be plunged into a cold bath. After each application of vinegar or water, the skin ought to be rubbed with flannel or a soft brush ; then leaving the person, thus situated, for a few minutes in an undisturbed state. Farther, clysters consisting of vinegar and water, will be useful; and, on the return of life, an inclination to vomit must be promoted by a feather dipped in oil, while gentle friction is to be continued, at intervals. The first symptoms indicating this happy change, will be, foaming at the mouth, and shivering of the whole body, especially after affusions of cold water.
In some cases of suffocation, however, it will be advisable to employ the united powers of electricity ; blood-letting; bronchotomy, or the opening the wind-pipe by an incision; or the earth-bath; or the artificial introduction of air into the lungs, by means of a pair of bellows described vol. ii. pp. 190-91. - If these efforts prove successful, so that the patient is again able to swallow, the most proper drink will be vinegar and water, or infusions of mint and balrn.