Upset and Uncomfortable

Choking is a response to an object such as a toy or food being lodged in the airway which keeps air from getting into and out of the lungs. Most of the time, the object will be coughed up and breathing is restored without much trouble. If your child is choking and coughing but can still breathe and talk, she will likely recover with no assistance. She may be upset and uncomfortable during this time, but most often, the episode is over in a few moments.

In the event that the object blocks the airway, however, the brain is deprived of oxygen leading to unconsciousness and possible brain damage. That's when choking becomes a life-threatening emergency.

Your child needs emergency care if she:

Can't breathe

Gasps or wheezes

Can't talk, make noise, or cry

Changes color, first red, and then blue

Clutches throat or waves arms

Seems panicked

If any of the above signs are present, start the Heimlich maneuver as you've been trained in the technique, otherwise, call 911 right away.

If your child is choking and coughing but can still breathe and talk, do nothing. The child will be fine after a good coughing. Never reach into the mouth to try to remove the object, since this may push the object further down the airway, worsening the situation. Stay with your child, remaining calm until the episode is finished.

If your child chokes and then loses consciousness and is no longer breathing, perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). See: and

It's a good idea to take your child to the emergency room after a major choking episode, in particular, when there is persistent coughing, gagging, wheezing, drooling, or difficulty in breathing or swallowing. However, if your child recovers with no ill effects from a coughing spell, there is no need to seek treatment.

Smaller Airways

Children under three are at particular risk for choking since they put everything into their mouths and have smaller airways. They also have less experience in chewing and often swallow things whole.

Avoid the risk of choking by eliminating from her diet, foods the same size and shape as your child's airway, including:

Hot dogs


Raw carrots



Hard or gummy candies

Spoonfuls of peanut butter

Chunks of meat or cheese


Cut whole grapes into quarters, cut peeled hot dogs lengthwise and into small pieces, and served cooked, rather than raw vegetables.

Teach kids to sit when eating and snacking and not to speak or laugh with food in their mouths.

Avoid deflated balloons, beads, coins, loose buttons, small toy parts, and batteries.

Be on constant lookout for objects children could put in their mouths and which could cause choking.

Choose age-appropriate toys, to avoid the hazard of small parts that can cause choking.