SSM Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center
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Babysitting: Dealing With Choking

Choking can be a life-threatening emergency.

Kids might be choking if they:

  • gasp for air
  • cannot talk, cry, or make noise
  • turn blue in the face
  • wave their arms and seem panicky

What to Do

If you think a child is choking:

  • Call 911 or have someone else call.
  • If you are trained, perform the Heimlich maneuver immediately. If you are not trained in the Heimlich maneuver, wait for medical care to arrive.

If a child starts choking and becomes unconscious and stops breathing:

  • Call 911 immediately.
  • Start cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) immediately. If you are not trained in CPR, wait for emergency medical care.
  • Do not pat the child on the back.
  • Do not reach into a child's mouth to try to remove the object.

If a child is able to breathe and talk while gagging or coughing, then the airway is not blocked. Keep an eye on the child if this happens — most likely, he or she is having a coughing attack and will be fine afterward.

If a child had a serious choking attack and has difficulty breathing or speaking, call 911 immediately. After you call 911, call the child's parents.

Preventing choking is much easier than treating it. To help prevent choking:

  • Never feed kids younger than 4 years old foods that are easy to choke on, such as nuts, raw carrots or celery, popcorn, fruits with pits or seeds (like cherries), and hard or gooey candy. Cut foods like hot dogs and grapes into small pieces.
  • Make sure that kids sit down to eat, take small bites, and don't talk or laugh with their mouths full while eating.
  • In a house with babies and toddlers, pick up items that might be dangerous if swallowed and put them out of the child's reach. These include deflated balloons, coins, beads, pen caps, and batteries. Keep toys or gadgets with small parts out of reach.

Reviewed by: Kate M. Cronan, MD
Date reviewed: May 2013