Traumatic asphyxia

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  • Traumatic asphyxia occurs when sudden and blunt chest trauma forces retrograde flow of blood through the superior vena cava and into the neck and head.
  • Normally a result of blunt chest trauma from an MVA [1]
  • In children the chest wall is more pliable and there is often less morbidity unless there is also multiorgan trauma[2]


  • Maintain adequate oxygenation > 92%
  • Maintain blood pressure with small fluid boluses if necessary (250cc boluses)
  • Assess for tension pneumothorax if patient hypoxic or hypotensive
  • Prepare for Advanced Airway if patient persistently hypoxic, unable to maintain airway, or has an anticipated poor clinical course

Clinical Features

Many of the following features can be seen on exam depending on the extent of the force.[3]

  • Upper-extremity cyanosis
  • Bilateral subconjunctival hemorrhage
  • Facial and neck edema
  • Engorged tongue

Signs and Symptoms

Differential Diagnosis

Thoracic Trauma



See Also


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accidents or unintentional injuries.
  2. Gutierrez IM, Ben-Ishay O, Mooney DP. Pediatric thoracic and abdominal trauma. Minerva Chir. Jun 2013;68(3):263-74
  3. Hubble MW, et al. Chest Trauma. In Hubble MW, Hubble JP, eds, Principles of Advanced Trauma Care. Albany, NY: Delmar/Thompson Learning, 2002.
  4. Cook AD, Klein JS, Rogers FB, et al. Chest radiographs of limited utility in the diagnosis of blunt traumatic aortic laceration. J Trauma. May 2001;50(5):843-7