Symptoms of Choking in Children

A foreign body in the airway (choking) constitutes a medical emergency and requires immediate attention. The foreign body can get stuck in many different places within the airway. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, death by choking is a leading cause of death and injury among children younger than 4 years of age.

As with other foreign body problems, children tend to put things into their mouths when they are bored or curious. The child may then inhale deeply and the object may become lodged in the "airway" tube (trachea) instead of the "eating" tube (esophagus). Food may be the cause of obstruction in children who do not have a full set of teeth to chew completely, or those children who simply do not chew their food well. Children also do not have complete coordination of the mouth and tongue which may also lead to problems. Children under the age of four years are in the greatest danger of choking on small objects, including, but not limited to, the following:

  • seeds
  • toy parts
  • grapes
  • hot dogs
  • pebbles
  • nuts
  • buttons
  • coins

Children need to be watched very closely to avoid a choking emergency.

What are the symptoms of foreign bodies in the airway?

Foreign body ingestion requires immediate medical attention. The following are the most common symptoms that may indicate a child is choking. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Choking or gagging when the object is first inhaled
  • Coughing at first
  • Wheezing (a whistling sound, usually made when the child breathes out)

Although the initial symptoms listed above may subside, the foreign body may still be obstructing the airway. The following symptoms may indicate that the foreign body is still causing an airway obstruction:

  • Stridor (a high-pitched sound usually heard when the child breathes)
  • Cough that gets worse
  • Child is unable to speak
  • Pain in the throat area or chest
  • Hoarse voice
  • Blueness around the lips
  • Not breathing
  • The child may become unconscious

Treatment for foreign bodies in the airway

Treatment of the problem varies with the degree of airway blockage. If the object is completely blocking the airway, the child will be unable to breathe or talk and his or her lips will become blue. This is a medical emergency and you should seek emergency medical care. Sometimes, surgery is necessary to remove the object. Children that are still talking and breathing but show other symptoms also need to be evaluated by a physician immediately.

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