Object Stuck in a Child's Airway

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Topic Overview

An object can become stuck in the airway at any age but is most common in children younger than age 3. Although a child may not have any symptoms when something is stuck in his or her airway, any of the following symptoms may occur:

  • Rapid, noisy, or high-pitched breathing
  • Increased drooling
  • Difficult, painful swallowing, or the complete inability to swallow
  • Gagging
  • Refusal to eat solids
  • Pain in the neck, chest, or abdomen
  • Vomiting

Since a small child may put anything in his or her mouth, it is important to be aware of what is within reach. The windpipe is about the same size as the diameter of your child's little finger. It is best to keep objects less than 1.25 in. (3.2 cm) out of a child's reach.

Pieces of food, such as hot dogs, peanuts, popcorn, and candy, are the most common objects that cause airway blockage, with round foods being most frequent. Small parts of a toy, the eyes sewn on a doll, or buttons from clothing can become stuck in the air passage. Latex balloons are particularly hazardous, because even a tiny piece can completely block the airway.


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer David Messenger, MD

Current as ofJune 4, 2014