Foreign bodies in the airway constitute a medical emergency and require immediate attention. The foreign body can get stuck in many different places within the airway.
As with other foreign body problems, children tend to put things into their mouths when they are bored or curious. The child may then inhale deeply and the object may become lodged in the "windpipe" (trachea) instead of the "eating tube" (esophagus).
Food may be the cause of obstruction in children who do not have a full set of teeth to chew completely, or those children who simply do not chew their food well. Young children do not have complete coordination of the mouth and tongue which may also contribute to the problem.
Children between the ages of 7 months and 4 years are in the greatest danger of choking on small objects, including, but not limited to, the following:
Children need to be watched very closely to avoid a choking emergency.
Foreign body ingestion requires immediate medical attention. The following are the most common symptoms that may indicate a child is choking:
Although the initial symptoms listed above may subside, the foreign body may still be obstructing the airway. The following symptoms may indicate that the foreign body is still causing an airway obstruction:
Treatment of the problem varies with the degree of airway blockage. If the object is completely blocking the airway, the child will be unable to breathe or talk and his lips will become blue. This is a medical emergency and you should seek emergency medical care. A back slap or Heimlich maneuver may be life saving.
Almost always, surgery is necessary to remove the obstructing object. Children who are still talking and breathing but show other symptoms also need to be evaluated by a physician immediately.
Reviewed by: Steven D. Handler, MD, MBE
Date: April 2009