Compression Asphyxia Caused the Deaths of all 10 Astroworld Festival Victims—Here's What That Is

Officials in Houston just released the official cause of death during from last month's crowd surge.

In early November, 10 people died in a crowd surge at the Astroworld Festival in Houston where Travis Scott performed. Now, public health officials have announced that the victims all died from the same cause: compression asphyxia.

Medical examiners at Houston's Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences had to wait several weeks after the concert to do additional tests before making a final determination on cause of death, according to an updated report obtained by Health. The manner of the deaths has been ruled an accident, and the victims ranged in age from nine to 27, the report stated.

The findings raise a lot of questions about what, exactly, compression asphyxia is and how people can recover from it, if at all. Critical care experts break it down.

What is compression asphyxia?

To understand compression asphyxia, it's important to first go over how breathing works in your body. When you breathe in air through your nose and/or mouth, it enters the lungs. Your lungs then pull out the oxygen and send it through your blood vessels to your vital organs, like your brain and heart, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).

On a macro level, asphyxia is a condition that happens when your body is deprived of oxygen, Eric Adkins, MD, an emergency medicine physician at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells Health. Compression asphyxia happens "when there is an external force that is limiting the ability of the chest to expand and for air to get into the lungs," Dr. Adkins explains.

Fady Youssef, MD, a board-certified pulmonologist, internist, and critical care specialist at MemorialCare Long Beach Medical Center in Long Beach, California, compares this situation to an accordion that's stuck in place. "If you can't open your lungs, you can't breathe," he tells Health. "A lot of times, this is seen in big crowds when people are crushed. The patient is unable to take a breath."

Why is compression asphyxia so dangerous?

The human body can't handle being without oxygen for long, Dr. Youssef says. "We're talking about a couple of minutes," he says. "Even several seconds can lead to damage in the absence of oxygen."

When someone has compression asphyxia, they have a buildup of carbon dioxide in their lungs (which you usually breathe out) and don't take in enough oxygen to help support their cells, Dr. Adkins says. "That can quickly lead to organ failure and brain death," he says. "At some point in this, you pass out and, if the obstruction is not relieved, you die."

Compression asphyxia isn't always deadly, Dr. Youssef explains. "It would require immediate intervention and immediate medical attention to try to halt the damage," he says.

Scott has not commented publicly on the latest findings. But before the news about the official cause of death was announced, dozens of lawsuits were already filed against Scott and Astroworld, alleging that they didn't do enough to ensure that concert-goers would be safe, per The Hill.

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