Air Embolism: Can It Kill You?

Have you ever seen a doctor ejecting out some of the medication through the syringe before injecting it into your body?

What if we tell you there’s a reason for that? 

Doctors and healthcare professionals eject out some amount of medication through the injection before injecting it into your body to prevent the formation of air bubbles. If the air bubbles go into your body, they might even kill you! 

Air embolism is a rare phenomenon. It occurs due to the entry of air bubbles in the systemic circulation of our body. In this article, we will tell you all about the causes, symptoms and treatment of air embolism. 

Air Embolism 

As mentioned earlier, air embolism is a rare occurrence. In this uncommon condition, a bubble of air or gas enters inside your body. The air bubble then interferes with the blood in your body and is carried to the heart through the blood. There are many reasons why this condition happens in some people. 

This air bubble either enters into your veins or your arteries. Depending on its size, it creates a blockage in either veins or arteries which doesn’t let the blood pass effortlessly. Air embolism in veins is not as serious as it is in arteries. 

As a result, the blood faces difficulty in its regular circulation process which gives rise to many symptoms related to it.  

How is Air Embolism Caused?

Air embolism may be caused due to many factors. The most common of them is ‘scuba diving’. 

Air Embolism due to scuba diving

Diving is the most common cause among the other air embolism causes. In scuba diving, air embolism is usually caused due to sudden upward movement of divers underwater. When the body quickly moves upward in water, the gas which the divers breathe starts forming bubbles due to rapid change in pressure. As a result, the air bubbles enter your lungs which might be deadly for you. 

air embolism

On the other hand, if you decide to hold your breath when you go up, it would again be a bad idea! 

If you hold your breath, your lungs might get ruptured which will also eventually result in air embolism. 

Deaths due to air embolism is common among divers. Hence, non-divers are given special training before they plan to go underwater. 

Air Embolism due to medical negligence while injecting IV injections 

During injecting Intravenous injections into the body, precautions must be taken to ensure that air bubbles don’t go into the body through injection. 

Sometimes, as a result of consulting inexperienced individuals, some people may end up getting an air bubble inside their bodies. Therefore, the person who is giving you an injection must follow proper instructions. 

 Air embolism can also occur as a result of following inadequate surgical procedures. If you are getting surgery, make sure to go to an experienced doctor and ask him to prevent air bubbles by following the right methods. 

Pulmonary Air Embolism 

Pulmonary air embolism in simple terms means the entrapment of air bubbles in the lungs. It may be due to many reasons including diving, surgery and trauma to the lungs

You can also develop pulmonary air embolism by being on a ventilator. The air may get inside your body from your ruptures lungs.

The air may get inside your body by various other methods. Depending on its size of the air bubble and its place of occurrence, the air bubble is labelled either as safe or fatal. 

Therefore, ‘air embolism causes’ include the above conditions. 

What are the symptoms of Air Embolism? 

Some of the common air embolism symptoms are muscle pain, anxiety and chest pain. The occurrence of symptoms depends on the severity of the condition. 

The symptoms can be as severe as getting seizures, cyanosis or paralysis. 

If you suspect having an air bubble inside your body, notice your body for these symptoms. The symptoms will probably show up within 10 to 20 minutes. 

Cyanosis is a condition in which the body becomes bluish due to the lack of proper blood supply to every part of your body.

If you did scuba diving, and you experience these symptoms after 10-20 minutes, you should rush to your nearest hospital. It could be fatal if left untreated. 


To diagnose this condition, your doctor will perform tests depending on the cause of air embolism. Air embolism diagnosis is done by first referring to the patient’s medical history. After that, your doctor will proceed with the tests. 

If you suspect having air embolism through your lungs, your doctor will perform a quick chest X-ray. This method is not 100% reliable to check the presence of air bubbles, though. 

Some doctors can also detect the presence of an air bubble by using a stethoscope. 

When can the air embolism be fatal?

When the air bubble enters your body, it will enter your heart with the blood circulation. If it has a bigger size, it might get stuck in an artery or vein and cause a blockage. 

In that case, the person might get a heart attack. 

Sometimes, the symptoms do not show up. Which is why there’s a higher risk of dying if a person gets heart attack from an air embolism. 

How will you treat air embolism? 

To proceed with air embolism treatment, you first need to know how the air is penetrating your system. 

Air embolisms can also result in heart attacks. Therefore, to prevent that condition from happening, doctors might give you the adrenaline to keep your heart working while they figure out what to do with the air bubble. 

The doctor might also advise you to sit straight to prevent the air bubble from reaching your brain. If the air bubble reaches your brain, it can cause death. 

If there’s a vascular air embolism, it will be detected by ‘Doppler ultrasound’. 

In the case of scuba diving, the most prominent treatment is Hyperbaric Oxygen therapy. This therapy is used to treat decompression sickness. Decompression sickness happens when the divers move rapidly in the upward direction. 

In hyperbaric oxygen therapy, oxygen is given to the patient in an atmosphere where pressure is higher than usual. 

Therefore, to treat air embolism you need to consult your doctor. 

In this article, we discussed air embolism symptoms, its causes and its treatment. For more such articles, subscribe to our newsletter! 

Read More

Hey, we like you a lot and 

want to offer you some of the best content

Share your email for some exclusive insights