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14 Things That Happen To Your Body When You Choke To Death

Updated September 27, 2019 74.6k views14 items

You've probably experienced the sensation of choking when food either went down the wrong pipe or was temporarily stuck in your throat. But do you know what choking to death feels like? Probably not. The sensation is frightening, not only because you're conscious during it, but because people around you are likely to freak out and could potentially make the situation worse. 

Still, perhaps you're curious about what choking to death is like. Is it similar to being strangled to death? How long does it take, and how much does it hurt? The fact is, dying alone while choking on something is a terrifying prospect, but it's far more involved and gruesome than you might think. So, take a few deep breaths before we continue, because we're going to take a look inside the experience from beginning to end. 

  • You'll Swallow Too Much At Once, Causing A Large Blockage

    If you're eating like a normal person, you're probably not going to choke on your food. By this, we mean that the human throat can handle a lot without choking, and even if some food or liquid goes down your trachea instead of your esophagus, you'll probably be able to cough it up. There are cases where nerve damage and pre-existing medical conditions make choking easier, but for the average person, the body is actually pretty good at preventing your airway from getting blocked. So, in order to choke on an object, it's got to be pretty big, and of a few specific textures.

    One of the most choked on foods in the United States is the hot dog, which makes sense, considering people have a tendency to take pretty big bites of the tasty treat. It's also a dense food that doesn't dissolve or break apart when you swallow, which makes it a choking nightmare. Solid candies also tend to be problematic, especially for children. In the end it all comes down to one thing: if you don't want to choke, chew your food thoroughly and take smaller bites.

  • You Suddenly Won't Be Able To Make A Sound

    When people think of choking, they tend to think of a person making noise as they cough up food, but one of the characteristics of choking is falling completely silent. No coughing, no noise, just absolute quiet. The reason for this is the food will be blocking any airflow to your throat.

    In order for you to make sounds or cough, air needs to get to your larynx so it can vibrate and create noise.

  • Your Trachea Will Clench Shut

    When food gets into your trachea and gets stuck, your body has a reaction that may seem totally counter-productive, even though it is trying to save your life. That reaction is called the drowning reflex. When your body senses something coming down the trachea, it reacts like you're under water, and closes to keep you from breathing in that water. Generally, if you're starting to drown, this can actually keep you alive a little longer.

    Unfortunately, when you're choking, the windpipe clenches up around the piece of food you're trying to swallow and stops it in its tracks. This vice-like grip makes it impossible to breathe and also makes it more difficult for you to get the food out, even with the Heimlich maneuver. 

  • You're Going To Start To Panic

    There are various stages you may go through when you begin to choke. First, you may not even believe you're actually choking. It's common to think that all you need to do is swallow harder, or pound on your chest a little, and it'll be fine. Then you'll probably feel embarrassed. Who chokes on food, after all?

    This might keep you from drawing attention to the fact that you're having a problem, and this loss of time can actually be deadly. Meanwhile, your body will actually start reacting to the fact that something is wrong, and that's when you'll start to panic.

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