Kids are at high risk for choking. With caution and education, you can help reduce your child’s chances of choking. By learning the right procedures, you may save your child’s life.

Choking results when an object obstructs the passageway that allows air into the lungs. This passageway, called the trachea, shares an opening in your throat with the esophagus, which leads to your stomach. A flap of tissue covers the trachea when you swallow, preventing food or liquids from going into the lungs. If for some reason the flap doesn’t close, an item can lodge in your trachea and cut off breathing.

Small foods, such as nuts, grapes, popcorn and hard candies, can easily block a child’s airway. Hot dogs are another high-risk food.

Children, especially very young ones, also love to put objects — such as marbles, game board pieces and small blocks — in their mouths.

Some illnesses, such as croup, may cause air passages to swell and narrow. If your child’s illness causes choking without an obstruction, call 9-1-1 immediately.

Sometimes, an item may only partially obstruct the airway, allowing some air through, or the object may totally block off the windpipe, preventing breathing altogether. You may not see the child swallow something.
Watch for these signs of choking:

Teach older children the universal choking distress signal: gripping the throat between the thumb and index finger.


Partial obstructions may be relatively harmless. We’ve all had food or liquid “go down the wrong pipe” and choked a little. If your child is coughing hard and wheezing, but can still speak, don’t interfere; allow your child to try to clear the obstruction on his own.

Call your son’s doctor if he has an obstruction in his airway, but can still breathe.

Every parent should know how to clear a child’s airway in case of choking. There are specific treatments you can give, such as abdominal thrusts, (formerly known as the Heimlich maneuver), but you should be trained properly in these techniques. Doing the wrong thing can be just as dangerous as doing nothing at all.

Akron Children’s Hospital is an American Heart Association Training Center, and offers a variety of life-saving courses including the Heartsaver AED CPR course, which teaches the basic techniques of adult and pediatric CPR and use of an AED. For more information, contact the center at 330-543-3703.

Call 9-1-1 immediately if your child:

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