AskDefine | Define suffocate

Dictionary Definition



1 deprive of oxygen and prevent from breathing; "Othello smothered Desdemona with a pillow"; "The child suffocated herself with a plastic bag that the parents had left on the floor" [syn: smother, asphyxiate]
2 impair the respiration of or obstruct the air passage of; "The foul air was slowly suffocating the children" [syn: stifle, asphyxiate, choke]
3 become stultified, suppressed, or stifled; "He is suffocating--living at home with his aged parents in the small village" [syn: choke]
4 suppress the development, creativity, or imagination of; "His job suffocated him" [syn: choke]
5 be asphyxiated; die from lack of oxygen; "The child suffocated under the pillow" [syn: stifle, asphyxiate]
6 feel uncomfortable for lack of fresh air; "The room was hot and stuffy and we were suffocating"
7 struggle for breath; have insufficient oxygen intake; "he swallowed a fishbone and gagged" [syn: gag, choke, strangle]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. To suffer from severely reduced oxygen intake to the body.
  2. To die due to insufficient oxygen supply to the body.
  3. In the context of "intransitive|figurative": To be overwhelmed by a person or issue, surrounded as though being deprived of oxygen.
  4. To cause someone to suffer severly reduced oxygen supply to his body.
  5. To kill a person or creature by depriving it of sufficient oxygen intake.
  6. In the context of "transitive|figurative": To make weary with excessive and prolonged contact, as though depriving of oxygen.

Derived terms

Related terms


(intransitive) To suffer from severely reduced oxygen intake to the body
(intransitive) To die due to insufficient oxygen supply to the body
(transitive) To cause someone to suffer severly reduced oxygen supply to his body
(transitive) To kill someone by depriving him of a sufficient oxygen intake

Extensive Definition

Asphyxia (from Greek a-, "without" and σφυγμός (sphygmos), "pulse, heartbeat") is a condition of severely deficient supply of oxygen to the body that arises from being unable to breathe normally. An example of Asphyxia is choking. Asphyxia causes generalized hypoxia, which primarily affects the tissues and organs most sensitive to hypoxia first, such as the brain, hence resulting in cerebral hypoxia. Asphyxia is usually characterized by air hunger, but this is not always the case; the urge to breathe is triggered by rising carbon dioxide levels in the blood rather than diminishing oxygen levels. Sometimes there is not enough carbon dioxide to cause air hunger, and victims become hypoxic without knowing it. This may occur, for example, if the oxygen in the air of an enclosed space is displaced by a large amount of inert gas. In any case, the absence of effective remedial action will very rapidly lead to unconsciousness, brain damage, and death. The time to death is dependent on the particular mechanism of asphyxia.
Asphyxia is used to maim or kill in capital punishment, suicide, torture, and warfare. It is also used non-fatally in martial arts, combat sports, BDSM, and during sex as erotic asphyxia. Because the need to breathe is triggered by the level of carbon dioxide in the blood, some victims may not experience an urgent need to breathe and may remain unaware of the onset of hypoxia.

Chemical or physiological interference with respiration

Various chemical and physiological situations can interfere with the body's ability to absorb and use oxygen or regulate blood oxygen levels:


Smothering refers to the mechanical obstruction of the flow of air from the environment into the mouth and/or nostrils, for instance, by covering the mouth and nose with a hand, pillow, or a plastic bag. Smothering can be either partial or complete, where partial indicates that the person being smothered is able to inhale some air, although less than required. In a normal situation, smothering requires at least partial obstruction of both the nasal cavities and the mouth to lead to asphyxia. Smothering with the hands or chest is used in some combat sports to distract the opponent, and create openings for transitions, as the opponent is forced to react to the smothering. It is also used in BDSM as a type of facesitting.
In some cases, smothering is combined with simultaneous compressive asphyxia. One example is overlay, in which an adult accidentally rolls over an infant during co-sleeping, an accident that often goes unnoticed and is mistakenly thought to be sudden infant death syndrome. Other accidents involving a similar mechanism are cave-ins or when an individual is buried in sand or grain. In homicidal cases, the term burking is often ascribed to a killing method that involves simultaneous smothering and compression of the torso.

Compressive asphyxia

Compressive asphyxia (also called chest compression) refers to the mechanical limitation of the expansion of the lungs by compressing the torso, hence interfering with breathing. Compressive asphyxia occurs when the chest or abdomen is compressed posteriorly. In accidents, the term traumatic asphyxia or crush asphyxia is usually used to describe compressive asphyxia resulting from being crushed or pinned under a large weight or force. An example of traumatic asphyxia includes cases in which an individual has been using a car-jack to repair a car from below, only to be crushed under the weight of the vehicle
It may be a cause of death in detainee who have been restrained and left prone e.g. in police vehicles and are unable to move into safer positions, when it has been styled 'restraint asphyxia'.
Chest compression is also featured in various grappling combat sports, where it is sometimes called wringing. Such techniques are used either to tire the opponent or as complementary or distractive moves in combination with pinning holds, or sometimes even as submission holds. Examples of chest compression include the knee-on-stomach position, or techniques such as leg scissors (also referred to as body scissors and in budo referred to as do-jime, 胴絞, "trunk strangle" or "body triangle") where you wrap the legs around the opponent's midsection and squeeze them together.
Pressing is a form of torture or execution that works through asphyxia.

Perinatal asphyxia

Perinatal asphyxia is the medical condition resulting from deprivation of oxygen (hypoxia) to a newborn infant long enough to cause apparent harm. It results most commonly from a drop in maternal blood pressure or interference during delivery with blood flow to the infant's brain. This can occur due to inadequate circulation or perfusion, impaired respiratory effort, or inadequate ventilation. Perinatal asphyxia happens in 2 to 10 per 1000 newborns that are born a terme.


Further reading

suffocate in Danish: Kvælning
suffocate in German: Asphyxie
suffocate in Estonian: Lämbumine
suffocate in Spanish: Anoxia
suffocate in French: Asphyxie
suffocate in Korean: 질식
suffocate in Italian: Anossia
suffocate in Lithuanian: Uždusimas
suffocate in Dutch: Wurging
suffocate in Japanese: 窒息
suffocate in Polish: Asfiksja
suffocate in Portuguese: Asfixia
suffocate in Russian: Асфиксия
suffocate in Simple English: Suffocation
suffocate in Finnish: Asfyksia
suffocate in Swedish: Kvävning
suffocate in Ukrainian: Асфіксія
suffocate in Chinese: 窒息

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

OD, asphyxiate, bake, bar, barricade, be in heat, be killed, blaze, block, block up, blockade, bloom, boil, bolt, bottle up, broil, burke, burn, censor, chock, choke, choke off, clamp down on, close, close off, close tight, close up, combust, constrict, cook, cork, cork up, crack down on, crowd, crush, damp down, debar, dog, drown, extinguish, famish, flame, flame up, flare, flare up, flicker, flush, fry, gag, garrote, gasp, glow, hold down, incandesce, jam, jump on, keep down, keep under, kill, lock, muzzle, obstruct, occlude, pack, pant, parch, pour water on, put down, put out, quash, quell, quench, radiate heat, repress, roast, scald, scorch, seethe, shimmer with heat, shut down on, shut off, shut out, shut tight, silence, simmer, sit down on, sit on, smash, smolder, smother, smothering, smudgy, snuff out, spark, squash, squeeze, squeeze shut, squelch, stamp out, stanch, starve, steam, stew, stifle, stop the breath, stop up, strangle, strangulate, stultify, subdue, suffocating, suppress, sweat, swelter, throttle, toast, trample out, trample underfoot, voice
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