Christie Clinic - Medicine for Your Life

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Choking - infant under 1 year

Choking is when an infant can't breathe because food, a toy, or other object is blocking the airway (throat or windpipe).
  • Considerations

    A choking infant's airway may be completely or partially blocked. A complete blockage is a medical emergency. A partial obstruction can quickly become life threatening if the infant loses the ability to breathe in and out sufficiently.

    Without oxygen, permanent brain damage can occur in as little as 4 minutes. Rapid first aid for choking can save a life.

  • Causes

    Choking in infants is usually caused by inhaling a small object that they have placed in their mouth, such as a button, coin, balloon, toy part, or watch battery.

  • Symptoms

    The danger signs of choking are:

    • Bluish skin color
    • Difficulty breathing - ribs and chest pull inward
    • Loss of consciousness if blockage is not cleared
    • Inability to cry or make much sound
    • Weak, ineffective coughing
    • Soft or high-pitched sounds while inhaling
  • First Aid

    DO NOT perform these steps if the infant is coughing forcefully or has a strong cry -- either of which can dislodge the object on its own.

    1. Lay the infant face down, along your forearm. Use your thigh or lap for support. Hold the infant's chest in your hand and jaw with your fingers. Point the infant's head downward, lower than the body.
    2. Give up to 5 quick, forceful blows between the infant's shoulder blades. Use the heel of your free hand.
    IF THE OBJECT ISN'T FREE AFTER 5 BLOWS
    1. Turn the infant face up. Use your thigh or lap for support. Support the head.
    2. Place 2 fingers on the middle of his breastbone just below the nipples.
    3. Give up to 5 quick thrusts down, compressing the chest 1/3 to 1/2 the depth of the chest.
    4. Continue this series of 5 back blows and 5 chest thrusts until the object is dislodged or the infant loses consciousness.

    IF THE INFANT LOSES CONSCIOUSNESS

    If the child becomes unresponsive, stops breathing, or turns blue:

    • Shout for help.
    • Give infant CPR. Call 911 after one minute of CPR.
    • If you can SEE the object blocking the airway, try to remove it with your finger. Try to remove an object ONLY if you can see it.
  • Do Not
    • DO NOT interfere if the infant is coughing forcefully, has a strong cry, or is breathing adequately. However, be ready to act if the symptoms worsen.
    • DO NOT try to grasp and pull out the object if the infant is conscious.
    • DO NOT perform back blows and chest thrusts if the infant stops breathing for other reasons, such as asthma, infection, swelling, or a blow to the head. DO give infant CPR.
  • Call immediately for emergency medical assistance if

    If an infant is choking:

    • Tell someone to call 911 while you begin first aid.
    • If you are alone, shout for help and begin first aid.
    Even if you successfully dislodge the object and the infant seems fine, call a doctor for further instructions.
  • Prevention
    • Don't give children under 3 years old balloons or toys with fragile or small parts.
    • Keep infants away from buttons, popcorn, coins, grapes, nuts, or similar items.
    • Watch infants and toddlers while they are eating. Do not allow a child to crawl around while eating. Childproof your home.
    • The earliest safety lesson is "No!"
  • References

    Manno M. Pediatric respiratory emergencies: Upper airway obstruction and infections. In Marx J, ed. Rosen’s Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 6th ed. St. Louis, Mo: Mosby; 2006:chap 166.

    Hauda WE II. Pediatric cardiopulmonary resuscitation. In: Tintinalli JE, Kelen GD, Stapczynski JS, Ma OJ, Cline DM, eds. Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide. 6th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2004:chap 14.

Review Date: 7/8/2009

Reviewed By: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington, Clinic. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- 2014 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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