First Aid: Choking
Choking can be a life-threatening emergency. Your child might be choking if he or she suddenly:
- begins gasping or wheezing
- can’t talk, cry, or make noise
- begins to turn blue in the face
- grabs at his or her throat or waves arms
- appears panicked
What to Do
If your child is choking, call 911 right away or have someone else call. If you are trained to do abdominal thrusts (also known as the Heimlich maneuver), do so immediately. If not done correctly, however, this maneuver could hurt your child.
Do not reach into the mouth to grab the object or pat your child on the back. Either could push the object farther down the airway and make the situation worse.
Keep the following in mind:
- If your child is gagging and coughing but can breathe and talk, the airway is not completely blocked and it’s best to do nothing. Your child will likely be fine after the coughing spell.
- If your child was choking and is now unconscious and no longer breathing, send someone to call 911. Immediately perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if you’ve been trained.
- Take your child for medical care after any serious choking episode, especially if there is a persistent cough or wheezing. If your child is having difficulty breathing or swallowing, go to the emergency room.
Here are four ways to prevent choking:
- Children younger than 4 years old should avoid eating foods that are easy to choke on, including nuts, raw carrots, popcorn, and hard or gooey candy. Cut food like hot dogs and grapes into small pieces.
- Make sure kids sit down, take small bites, and don’t talk or laugh with mouths full when eating.
- Pick up anything off the floor that might be dangerous to swallow, like deflated balloons, pen caps, coins, beads, and batteries. Keep toys or gadgets with small parts out of reach.
- Learn how to do abdominal thrusts and CPR, which usually are taught as part of any basic first-aid course.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: April 2014