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Choking and suffocation is the third leading cause of home and community death in the United States.  Foods are responsible for most choking incidents. But for children, objects such as small toys, coins, nuts or marbles can get caught in their throats. Choking can cause a simple coughing fit or something more serious like a complete block in the airway, which can lead to death.

Although choking can occur in people of all ages, children under the age of three are particularly vulnerable. Older adults also have an increased risk of choking on food.


For children under the age of 1, choking and suffocation is the third leading cause of unintentional injury death. Choking hazards include foods like hot dogs, popcorn, hard candy, peanut butter, ice cubes, cheese cubes, whole grapes, raw vegetables, fruits with skins. Since children put just about everything in their mouths, many household items and toys are choking hazard as well, including latex balloons, coins, marbles, small balls, crayons, rings, ornaments and lights. Be aware of other choking hazards that may harm your children.

Signs of a choking infant

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Weak cry, weak cough or both
  • Unable to cry or make a sound
  • Bluish skin color
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Soft or high-pitched sounds while inhaling
  • Difficulty breathing – ribs and chest pulled inward

Prevention for Infants and Children

  • Keep small objects out of reach
  • Have children sit while eating, no moving or running around
  • Cut foods into bite size pieces
  • Have children small amount of food at a time
  • Keep hard candy away from children

Older adults

For adults over the age of 76, choking is the third leading cause of home injury death.  Choking deaths peak at age 85 and is the second leading cause of unintentional injury death in adults 89 and older.

Although not chewing food properly is the most common cause of choking, eating too fast, drinking alcohol, and health conditions like Parkinson’s can increase the chances of someone choking.  In older adults, having dentures and difficulty with swallowing can increase their risk of choking. Older adults who live alone may not have the help they need if they choke.

Signs of a choking adult

  • Coughing or gagging
  • Clutching throat or pointing to throat
  • Suddenly unable to talk
  • Wheezing
  • Passing out; loss of consciousness
  • Skin, lips or nail turning blue

Prevention for Adults

A few simple behaviors can keep you and your loved ones from choking.  Foods, such as peanut butter, meats, soft foods like cookies and cakes and larger chunks of fruits can all cause an older adult to choke. Some of these foods are harder to chew.

  • Chew foods slowly, especially if you wear dentures
  • Refrain from laughing or talking while eating
  • Don’t drink too much alcohol before and during meals

What can you do?

If you witness someone choking, call 9-1-1 immediately. If you are familiar with abdominal thrusts, use it to clear the airway. If you are unfamiliar with life-saving techniques, get trained in CPR either online or in a classroom.

If you are alone and choking, call 9-1-1. Even if you can't speak, call 9-1-1 and leave the phone off the hook.  In many areas, emergency personnel will respond to 9-1-1 calls where a caller doesn't speak. If you can, attempt to clear your airway yourself - thrust your mid abdomen (the area at the bottom of your ribs) against the back of a chair or railing.

Even if you are able to clear your airway, it's still important to seek medical attention. The choking may have caused damage in your airway, making future episodes of choking more likely.



If someone is choking CALL 911. 


Getting trained in First Aid and CPR with AED can give you the skills to save a person's life. The National Safety Council offers courses online and in the classroom


Choking and adults

Medline Plus: Choking


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