Causes and Symptoms of Air Embolism

There can be several causes of air embolism like injections, trauma, and injury. Some of the common causes include:

When injecting medicines intravenously, air bubbles can be accidentally injected into the blood vessels. Sometimes air can enter the body during surgical procedures. For example, studies have shown that brain surgeries often lead to air embolism. Doctors and nurses are trained to avoid embolisms while conducting surgeries.

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Air embolism can also occur due to some trauma experienced in the lungs. If the trauma is severe, the patient can be put on a ventilator, which causes air bubbles to be introduced into the lungs.

Air embolism is also a common diving injury. Scuba diving involves holding breath for long periods underwater. If the individual holds the breath longer than required, the alveoli get stretched, which might rupture the alveoli membrane and cause air bubbles to move into the arteries.

In extreme conditions, bomb blasts can cause an air embolism. This type of problem can be seen among military people.

Air embolism can prove to be fatal if not treated on time. It can be identified with symptoms including respiratory problems like difficulty in breathing, heart problems accompanied by chest pains, muscular pains, strokes, unconsciousness, confusion, and low blood pressure.

Mechanism of Air Embolism
Bubbles accumulate in the blood vessels because of the pressure gradient, which favors the entry of gases into the blood vessels. Generally, the pressure in the blood vessels is higher than the surrounding atmospheric pressure. This prevents air bubbles from entering the vessels even during an injury. The vessels with lower pressure are referred to as negative pressure. The pressure difference drives the air bubble around the vessels. The pressure difference also attaches the bubbles to the walls of the vessels, thus blocking them. However, the blood vessels above the heart have pressure lesser than the atmospheric pressure. Thus, during an injury, air can enter the vessels. The constriction of the lungs caused by the entry of air into the vessels, exerts pressure on the right side of the heart. As a result, the bubble is diverted to the opposite side of the heart. It then travels to the brain or coronary arteries. The air blocks the pulmonary veins and arteries, causing cardiac problems.

Treatment and Diagnosis of Air Embolism
Doctors generally suspect air embolism when the patient has undergone surgery or suffered a traumatic experience that affected the heart or lungs. The doctors usually suggest an ultrasound or a computed tomography (CT scan) to detect the bubbles. The primary way of treating air embolism is to prevent air bubbles from entering the system. Many ways can prevent the formation of bubbles. It has been observed that diving can be a significant cause of air embolism. Thus, before diving, people should check the depth of the dive and the duration. In addition, one should never dive with a cough or cold. If embolism is detected, doctors suggest the patient to sit, which prevents the embolism from traveling to the brain, heart, or lungs. The other treatments include hyperbaric oxygen therapy where the person is kept in a high-pressure steel room that gives oxygen to them.

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