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Choking In Children: First Aid And Prevention

Written by Regina Victoria Boyles, MD · Pediatrics

Updated Aug 30, 2022

Choking In Children: First Aid And Prevention

Perhaps, you have watched a footage or two of kids choking. They seem to be quietly eating and then a few seconds later, they are holding their necks and the adults are running to their rescue. In the United States alone, at least one child dies of choking from food every five days. Here’s what you need to know about the essential choking first aid steps. 

Choking, An Overview

As mentioned earlier, choking is one of the leading causes of accidental deaths in children. The fundamental reason? Children pass through a specific stage of development when they get most pleasure or satisfy their curiosity through their mouths – that’s why they have the tendency to suck their thumbs or put objects inside their mouth. 

Another contributing reason is that they have smaller airways, hence bigger chunks of foods that adults can eat without a problem can lead to choking in children. 

Common Choking Items Parents Need To Watch Out For

Choking items could either be food, toys, or household objects. 

Common food items that might cause choking are characteristically hard, sticky, chunky or dry. Examples include popcorn, gum, candy, and nuts. 

Choking First Aid: What To Do If A Child Is Choking

If you find a choking child, do the following:

1. Check visually the child’s mouth for any foreign body. Do not blindly sweep (with fingers) over the cavity as it might cause further harm. If the foreign body could be seen, then it would most likely be reached and easily taken out by the parent.

2. In choking, as long as the child can “cough”, it is most often a good sign. Coughing mechanism should help dislodge most objects.

3. Among infants, we do the BACK SLAPS and CHEST THRUSTS.

Back slaps/blows 

Lay the infant facing down, over your arm or lap, with head lower than body’s level. Using the palm of your hands, hit firmly on the back, in between shoulder blades. Do this 5 times.

Chest thrusts 

Lay the infant on its back. Place 2 fingers in the middle of the breast bone, just below the nipples. Push sharply downwards (about 1/3 of the depth of chest size) and repeat 5 times.

4. Among children, choking first aid involves ABDOMINAL THRUSTS or HEIMLICH MANEUVER.

Stay (standing or kneeling) behind the child and hold him around the waist area. Clench one fist and grasp it with your other hand. Place them at the level between the child’s navel and rib cage. Pull sharply inwards and upwards. Do this 5 times.

Tutorial videos could be downloaded online, from reputable medical sites. Also, this is commonly taught by medical professionals to parents. Some interested parents may even enroll in special classes for first aid/basic life support.

5. Bring the child to the ER right away if all else fails and/or for final assessment.

How To Prevent Choking In Children

Besides the choking first aid steps, the following measures of preventing choking are also essential:

  1. Surveillance of hazardous items in the market, be it in the food industry, toy industry, and other household manufacturing companies. This should be a collaborative effort among parents, companies and even the government.
  2. Children should be taught the proper eating habits, which include:
  • Assuming proper posture; posture can affect the child’s ability to swallow. 
  • Proper chewing. Breaking down the food into smaller pieces by thoroughly chewing reduces the risk of choking. 
  • Time, pacing (calm and avoid distractions) and regular intervals of meals. Eating at a fast rate, when kids are too hungry, can also increase the risk of choking. 
  • Key Takeaways

    Choking remains to be one of the leading causes of accidental deaths in children. Kids can choke on food, toys, or household items. Two measures to take when an infant is choking are back slaps and chest thrusts. For older children, the Heimlich Maneuver can help. Of course, don’t forget to bring the child to the emergency room if all else fails or for further assessment.

    Learn more about Parenting here


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Written by

    Regina Victoria Boyles, MD


    Updated Aug 30, 2022

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