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Deaths Associated with Choking in San Diego County

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Death from choking is the fourth most common cause of unintentional-injury mortality, but little data are published on causes or locations of these episodes. These deaths typically are peaked at the extremes of age, with young children and the elderly having the greatest rate of fatal choking. Our objective was to characterize the causes of fatal airway obstruction in adults. The San Diego County Medical Examiner's database was searched for deaths attributed to choking in decedents 18 years and older during the 10-year period from 1994 to 2004. Data were abstracted regarding the underlying medical conditions, items choked on, location of the choking, and treatments involved in the individual cases. We found 133 victims who died from choking, with 14% having using alcohol or other sedatives and 55% having a documented neurological deficit or anatomic difficulty with swallowing. The most common specified food objects that victims choked on were meat products, and 45% occurred at home, followed by 26% at supervised facilities, and 14% at restaurants. Of the 19 choking episodes occurring in restaurants, only one employee was documented to attempt a resuscitative effort. Most victims who choked to death had an underlying neurological deficit, and occurred at home or supervised facilities appear to have an appropriate initial-response intervention.
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Keywords: airway; choking; foreign body; forensic science; obstruction

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Emergency Medicine, San Diego Medical Center, University of California, 200 West Arbor Drive, San Diego, CA 92103. 2: Office of the Medical Examiner, County of San Diego Health and Human Services, 5555 Overland Avenue, Suite 1411, San Diego, CA 92123-1245. 3: San Diego County Division of Emergency Medical Services, 6255 Mission Gorge Road, San Diego, CA 92120.

Publication date: January 1, 2007

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