What is air embolism?
air embolism, also called a gas embolism, occurs when one or more air bubbles
enter a vein or artery and block it. When an air bubble enters a vein, it’s
called a venous air embolism. When an air bubble enters an artery, it’s called
an arterial air embolism.
air bubbles can travel to your brain, heart, or lungs and cause a heart attack,
stroke, or respiratory failure. Air embolisms are rather rare.
Causes of air embolism
air embolism can occur when your veins or arteries are exposed, and pressure
allows air to travel into them. This can happen in several ways, such as:
Injections and surgical procedures
syringe or IV can accidentally inject air into your veins. Air can also enter
your veins or arteries through a catheter that is inserted into them.
can enter your veins and arteries during surgical procedures. This is most
common during brain surgeries. According to an article in the Journal of
Minimal Access Surgery, up to 80 percent of brain surgeries result in an
air embolism. However, medical professionals usually detect and correct the
embolism during the surgery before it becomes a serious problem.
and nurses are trained to avoid allowing air to enter the veins and arteries
during medical and surgical procedures. They are also trained to recognize an
air embolism and treat it if one does occur.
air embolism can sometimes occur if there is trauma to your lung. For example,
if your lung is compromised after an accident, you might be put on a breathing
ventilator. This ventilator could force air into a damaged vein or artery.
can also get an air embolism while scuba diving. This is possible if you hold
your breath for too long when you are under water or if you surface from the
water too quickly.
actions can cause the air sacs in your lungs, called alveoli, to rupture. When
the alveoli rupture, air may move to your arteries, resulting in an air
Explosion and blast injuries
injury that occurs because of a bomb or blast explosion can cause your veins or
arteries to open. These injuries typically occur in combat situations. The
force of the explosion can push air into injured veins or arteries.
to the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the most common fatal injury for people
in combat who survive blast injuries is “blast lung.” Blast lung is when an
explosion or blast damages your lung and air is forced into a vein or artery in
Blowing into the vagina
rare instances, blowing air into the vagina during oral sex can cause an air
embolism. In this case, the air embolism can occur if there is a tear or injury
in the vagina or uterus. The risk is higher in pregnant women, who may have a
tear in their placenta.
What are the symptoms of air embolism?
minor air embolism may cause very mild symptoms, or none at all. Symptoms of a
severe air embolism might include:
- difficulty breathing or respiratory failure
- chest pain or heart failure
- muscle or joint pains
- mental status changes, such as confusion or loss
- low blood pressure
- blue skin hue
How is an air embolism diagnosed?
might suspect that you have an air embolism if you are experiencing symptoms,
and something recently happened to you that could cause such a condition, such
as a surgery or lung injury.
use equipment that monitor airway sounds, heart sounds, breathing rate, and
blood pressure to detect air embolisms during surgeries.
a doctor suspects that you have an air embolism, they may perform an ultrasound
or CT scan to confirm or rule out its presence, while also identifying its
exact anatomical location.
How is an air embolism treated?
for an air embolism has three goals: to stop the source of the air embolism, to
prevent the air embolism from damaging your body, and to resuscitate you, if
some cases, your doctor will know how the air is entering your body. In these
situations, they will correct the problem to prevent future embolisms.
doctor may also place you in a sitting position to help stop the embolism from
traveling to your brain, heart, and lungs. You may also take medications, such
as adrenaline, to keep your heart pumping.
possible, your doctor will remove the air embolism through surgery. Another
treatment option is hyperbaric oxygen therapy. This is a painless treatment
during which you occupy a steel, high-pressurized room that delivers 100
percent oxygen. This therapy can cause an air embolism to shrink, so it can be
absorbed into your bloodstream without causing any damage.
an air embolism or embolisms are small, and don’t block the veins or arteries.
Small embolisms generally dissipate into the bloodstream and don’t cause
serious problems. Large air embolisms can cause strokes or heart attacks and
could be fatal. Prompt medical treatment for an embolism is essential, so
immediately call 911 if you have concerns about possible air embolism.