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First Aid

What Are the Signs of Choking?

Choking can be a life-threatening emergency. A child might be choking if they:

  • begin gasping or wheezing
  • can't talk, cry, or make noise
  • begin to turn blue in the face
  • grab at their throat or wave their arms
  • appear panicked
  • become limp or unconscious

What to Do About Choking

If your child is choking, call 911 right away or have someone else call. If you are trained to do abdominal thrusts (also known as the Heimlich maneuver), do so right away. If not done correctly, however, this maneuver could hurt your child.

Do not reach into the mouth to grab the object or pat your child on the back. Either could push the object farther down the airway and make the situation worse.

Keep the following in mind:

  • If your child is gagging and coughing but can breathe and talk, the airway is not completely blocked and it's best to do nothing. Your child will likely be fine after the coughing spell.
  • If your child was choking and is now unconscious and no longer breathing, send someone to call 911. Immediately perform CPR if you've been trained.
  • Take your child for medical care after any serious choking episode, especially if there is a lasting cough or wheezing. If your child has trouble breathing or swallowing, go to the ER.

What Can Help Prevent Choking?

Here are 4 ways to prevent choking:

  1. Children younger than 4 years old should avoid eating foods that are easy to choke on, including nuts, raw carrots, popcorn, and hard or gooey candy. Cut foods like hot dogs and grapes into small pieces.
  2. Make sure kids sit down, take small bites, and don't talk or laugh with mouths full when eating.
  3. Pick up anything off the floor that might be dangerous to swallow, like deflated balloons, pen caps, coins, beads, and batteries. Keep toys or gadgets with small parts out of reach.
  4. Learn how to do abdominal thrusts and CPR, which usually are taught as part of any basic first-aid course.
Medically reviewed by: Yamini Durani, MD
Date reviewed: April 2023