How to Save Choking Children: A First Aid Management

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Choking is an emergency situation in infants, children, or adults because it may cause airway obstruction that could lead to cardiopulmonary arrest. A large piece of meat is most often the cause of choking in adults. For children, most especially ages 1 – 3, they are very susceptible because they may put anything inside their mouths, including coins, toys, etc. that could partially or totally occlude their airways.

CPR for a child

How To Know If One Is Choking

The following are the things you can do to identify the signs and symptoms of a person who is choking:

1.)    Ask the child if he or she is choking. Often, bigger children could nod their heads.

2.)    Determine speechlessness. Inability to speak, cough, and breathe are the first signs and symptoms that a child is choking.

3.)    Observe for the universal distress sign. The child may grasp his or her neck between the thumb and fingers.

4.)    Your child may become unconscious when choking occurs for a long period of time.

What to Do For Partial Airway Obstruction

If the child is conscious, still breathing, and able to cough, it indicates that his or her airway is partially occluded only. Ask the child to cough forcefully. A strong cough clears the throat from the obstruction. Encourage the child to cough persistently until the foreign object is expelled. If coughing becomes ineffective and the child begins to have respiratory difficulties, the child is managed as if there is complete airway obstruction.

What to Do For Complete Airway Obstruction

1.)    Heimlich Maneuver

The Heimlich maneuver is also known as subdiaphragmatic abdominal thrusts or abdominal thrusts. If the child is still conscious, stand behind the child with dominant foot forward. Wrap the child around the waist, making a fist with the dominant hand (put the thumb side against the abdomen just above the navel). The other hand should grasp the fist. Then, make quick upward thrusts until the object is expelled. Apply lesser force for a child as compared to an adult.

2.)    Finger Sweep

If the child loses consciousness, let the child slide between your legs for support. Open the mouth by grasping the tongue and lower jaw and lifting the mandible to see if the foreign body is in the mouth. If visible, use a hooking action to remove the object out of the mouth using your index finger. Be careful not to push the object deeper in the mouth.

3.)    Chest Thrusts

This technique is only used in advanced stages of pregnancy or in obese persons. It has the same technique with Heimlich maneuver except that the fist is placed in the middle of the patient’s sternum.


Smeltzer, S., Bare B., (2008) Brunner and Suddarth’s Textbook of Medical-Surgical Nursing. NY: Lippincott-Raven Publishers.

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