What is Choking?

No matter how old you are, many of us have felt that moment of panic when we feel something momentarily lodge in our throat while talking or laughing with food in our mouth. Mine was a piece of gum that fell down my trachea after a friend of mine told a particularly funny joke. But, choking emergencies are no laughing matter! Especially in children, choking is a serious emergency that needs to be dealt with immediately.

If a victim goes for only three minutes without breathing, they will slip into unconsciousness. Soon after, their blood will be completely desaturated of oxygen and their body will begin to shut down. Once oxygenated blood is no longer being delivered to their vital organs, such as the heart and brain, it is only a matter of minutes before the victim expires. That being said, fast response is absolutely necessary when it comes to dealing with a choking victim. Always remember to call 9-1-1 for emergency medical assistance if someone cannot breath from choking. The sooner EMS is alerted, the better chance the victim will survive!

How to identify a choking victim

The universal sign of a choking victim is the victim’s hands holding onto their neck and throat. If you suspect choking in a person ask them and they will most likely respond with frantic head nodding. When a person chokes, their airway is completely blocked, preventing them from breathing, coughing, speaking and most importantly asking for help. They’ll be nodding their head because they won’t be able to convey their problem vocally. If the choking victim is coughing, encourage them to continue because this may dislodge the obstruction. It’s a different story with babies and toddlers who are just beginning to or don’t know how to speak. You can tell if an infant is choking if they are unable to cry or cough, are turning blue, or show intense signs of silent struggle.

How to help a choking victim

If you’ve encouraged them to cough but the obstruction in their airway isn’t moving, the American Red Cross developed a technique that will hopefully prevent the victim from going unconscious. Before you begin the maneuver, make sure to call 9-1-1 and make sure that emergency medical services are en route just in case the victim goes unconscious. Recently, the American Red Cross changed their traditional Heimlich maneuver to a more modern “5 and 5” technique. It includes five stomach thrusts much like the Heimlich, followed by five firm back blows. If the victim goes unconscious, there is an altered type of CPR for a victim with an airway obstruction. There is also a 5 and 5 technique developed for infants and babies as well. Much like the technique discussed above, you do five back blows and give five compressions. With a baby you actually physically pick them up and hold them while you give the back blows. Supporting their head and neck, stretch your forearm across their front body and put them on your knee to give the back blows. Flip them and do the same with their back, running your arm down their spine. Once flipped, instead of compressing their stomach, you’ll be compressing their chest about half an inch. Alternate these two techniques until the item is dislodged, EMS arrives, or someone of higher skill takes over.

Children Choking Hazards

Choking is the leading cause of accidental death in children under one year of age; in lieu of this I’ll be dedicating the second half of this post to inform you about child choking risk and prevention. We all know kids will put anything and everything into their mouths; they’re also inexperienced in chewing properly, thusly children are at risk of choking for much of their young lives. Food or otherwise, the following information will inform you of common household choking hazards. As a new uncle, researching this information is very important for me as I will be babysitting more than I ever have in the past.


When a child is moving away from baby food into more solid, chewable food, be sure to monitor them with diligence. Because they are new to chewing, they will be more prone to getting ahead of themselves and biting off more than they can chew, figuratively and literally. When feeding a child, it’s best to avoid round foods as they can easily become lodged in the throat, round foods will block the maximum amount of airflow through the trachea. In addition to round foods it is best to avoid sticky foods that can clump together once in their mouth. More foods to avoid include:

  • cut up hot dogs
  • peanut butter
  • grapes
  • raisins
  • popcorn
  • raw carrots
  • hard or sticky candy
  • nuts


When buying toys for your child, it is important to keep in mind some standards for how you search. Make sure to read a new toy’s packaging before you buy it. Clearly marked choking hazard warnings will be on any potentially dangerous toy. Also, think of the size of the toy; is it so small that it will fit through a toilet paper roll? If so, it has failed the size test and should not be given to a child to play with. Does the toy have batteries; and if so, are the batteries easily removed? Toys that operate using batteries should have a safe and secure battery storage area. The lid to the battery compartment should be fastened with screws as to prevent the child from prying it open. If their get their hands on batteries, a myriad of risks develop. The batteries themselves present the risk of choking and the fluid inside can cause harmful chemical burns and internal bleeding, if ingested. Lastly, the toy should be durable. It should be able to handle whatever abuse the child can throw at it without breaking. If a toy breaks while a child is playing with it, small pieces or sharp edges may have broken off, presenting a new collection of dangers!

Household Items

Other than toys, there are many little odds and ends that will catch a child’s eye. For various reasons, the listed items below should be kept away from children at all times!

  • latex balloons
  • coins
  • marbles
  • pen caps
  • pebbles

Here at Crowe Arnold & Majors, LLP, we understand the everyday risks presented to small children and adults; choking hazards may be a result of mislabeled packaging, negligence or defective products. If the unthinkable has happened to you or your child from one of these causes, please contact us immediately for legal help!

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