Health Topics

What Do I Do if My Child Is Choking?

What Do I Do if My Child Is Choking?

A child can choke to death within 2 to 5 minutes. Recognizing quickly that choking is occurring is critical. Look for the signs listed below to identify when your child may be choking:

  1. Sudden difficulty breathing (without crying or cough).
  2. Clutching at the throat.
  3. Turning red in the face, then ashen blue.
  4. Loss of consciousness from lack of oxygen (asphyxia).

If a child becomes unconscious, you can assume that he or she has a complete obstruction of the airway. If your child shows any of the signs listed above, begin first aid and call 9-1-1 immediately.

How Do I Begin First Aid?

Recommendations for what to do in cases of choking are provided by The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Heart Association and the American Red Cross. Children of different ages require different procedures. View the lists below, separated by age, for more information.

Children Less Than a Year Old

Follow the first aid guidelines listed below for your infants:

  1. Place the infant face-down on your forearm.
  2. Keep the baby's head down at 60 degrees and stabilized. (If the head bends too far back, the air passages can become blocked.)
  3. Using the heel of your hand, deliver four blows to the back, between the shoulder blades.

If the infant is still not breathing:

  1. Turn the infant onto his or her back on a firm surface.
  2. Using two fingers, give four rapid chest thrusts over the lower breast bone (sternum).

If the infant continues not to breathe:

  1. Grasp both the tongue and lower jaw between the thumb and finger and lift (tongue-jaw lift).
  2. Look inside the mouth for the foreign body. If you can see the object, remove it by a sweep of your pinkie finger (Do not put your fingers in your child's mouth if you do not see the object).
  3. If your child is not breathing, begin mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Place your mouth over your baby's nose and mouth and give two breaths.
  4. Repeat all previous steps.

Small Children (1 to 8 years)

Here you will need to modify the first aid procedures that are used for infants. Follow the steps listed below:

  1. Place your child on a firm surface.
  2. Kneel at your child's feet.
  3. Place the heel of your hand below your child's sternum.
  4. Place your second hand on top of the first.
  5. Press into the abdomen with an upward thrust. Repeat six to ten times.

If your child is still not breathing:

  1. Perform tongue-jaw lift.
  2. Look into the mouth for the foreign body.
  3. If you can see the object, remove it with a finger sweep.

If your child remains unresponsive:

  1. Give two breaths mouth to mouth.
  2. Repeat all previous steps.

Older Children (8 years and up)

Kids in this age range can be treated as adults. Here, you can perform the Heimlich Maneuver. Just make sure to follow the instructions detailed below:

  • Grasping your child from behind, place your hands just below the lower ribs and deliver upward thrusts at a 45-degree angle.
  • The thrusts should force air out of the chest and into the narrow passageway, dislodging the object.
  • The Heimlich maneuver can be performed with the child standing, sitting or lying flat on his or her back on a firm surface. Place both of your hands just below the ribs and thrust upwards.

When Should I Not Give First Aid?

Listed below are signs that an object is only partially blocking the airway. In these cases, first aid can lead to complete obstruction. You should not perform first aid if your child is:

  • Clearing his/her throat
  • Coughing
  • Gagging

When there is an incomplete obstruction:

  • DO NOT probe the throat with your fingers.
  • DO NOT give mouth to mouth.
  • DO NOT slap your child on the back.
  • DO NOT perform the Heimlich maneuver.