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Choking in Children


What do I need to know about choking in children?

Infants and very young children explore their environment by putting objects in their mouth. This increases their risk of choking if they swallow a small object. Small objects can easily get stuck in their airway because the airway is very narrow. Young children are also at increased risk of choking on certain foods because they cannot chew food well. Young children may not be able to cough strongly enough to clear an object from their airway. Choking can become life-threatening.

What increases my child's risk of choking?

  • Age younger than 4 years
  • Trouble swallowing due to medical conditions such as developmental delay or traumatic brain injury
  • Walking, running, lying down, talking, or laughing with food in his mouth
  • Playing games with food such as throwing food in the air and catching it in his mouth or stuffing his mouth with food

What objects can cause choking?

  • Balloons
  • Small marbles or balls
  • Small toys, toy parts, or game pieces
  • Small hair bows, barrettes, or hair ties
  • Small pieces of jewelry or beads
  • Caps from markers or pens
  • Coins or buttons
  • Small button-type batteries
  • Refrigerator magnets or toy magnets
  • Pieces of dog food

What foods can cause choking?

Do not give the following foods to children under the age of 4 years:

  • Whole grapes or chunks of raw vegetables or fruit
  • Hot dogs and sausage
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Chunks of meat, cheese, or peanut butter
  • Popcorn
  • Chewing gum and marshmallows
  • Hard candy

What should I do if my child is choking?

  • Call 911 if your child was choking and has passed out. Do CPR if you are trained on how to do it. If you or no one else has been trained, just wait for help to arrive.
  • Call 911 if your child is awake but cannot breathe, talk, make noise, or he is turning blue. Do abdominal thrusts (Heimlich Maneuver) if you are trained on how to do these. Abdominal thrusts must be done properly to avoid causing harm to a young child. Abdominal thrusts are taught in First Aid courses. CPR is also taught as part of this course.
  • Watch your child carefully if he can breathe and talk. Your child's airway is not completely blocked if he is able to breathe and talk. Do not pat his back or reach into his mouth to try to grab the object. These could push the object farther down the airway. Stay with your child and keep calm until the choking has stopped.

What can I do to help prevent choking?

  • Inspect toys carefully before you give them to your child. Look at the toy closely to make sure there are no small parts that can easily come off and cause choking. Toy packages usually include warnings about choking risk in young children. Toys may not be safe for very young children even if the toy package shows that it is.
  • Teach older children about choking dangers. Remind your older child to keep his toys out of your younger child's reach. Ask him to never let your younger child play with his toys. Older children should not offer foods that can cause choking to infants and young children.
  • Regularly check your home for small items that a child can choke on. Look in places where small items may not be clearly visible, such as under furniture. Get down on the floor to look for small items that your child can find and put in his mouth.
  • Cut food into small pieces for your child. The pieces should be ½ inch or smaller in size. Remind your child to chew food well.
  • Supervise your child when he is eating. Have your child sit down during meals. Teach him not to run, walk, play, or lie down with food in his mouth. Do not allow your child to run, play sports, or ride in the car with gum, candy, or a lollipop in his mouth.
  • Take a first aid or CPR course. These courses can help you be prepared in case of emergency. Ask a healthcare provider for training organizations near you.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • Your child begins to drool, gag, or wheeze, or he continues to cough after he recovers from choking.
  • Your child has trouble swallowing or breathing after he recovers from choking.
  • Your child did recover after choking, but he turned blue, became limp, or passed out while choking.
  • You think your child swallowed an object such as a small toy or battery.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • Your child was choking, but recovered after coughing.
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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