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A Blog from Your Kaiser Permanente Pediatricians in Northern California

toddler eating a small meatball

How to Save a Life? Prevent Choking

My kids have choked and needed the Heimlich maneuver 3 times. That’s right, 3 times! This technique is a procedure where you use abdominal thrusts to remove foreign objects from a person’s airway to save them from choking.

My first child was 2 when he crammed too much soft, squishy bread in his throat. Thankfully his father noticed and jumped to his rescue. Once on a sunny day at the park, my daughter gagged on an orange wedge. When I saw her panicked face, I also panicked and turned to my best friend for help. My daughter cleared the orange on her own that time, but later choked on green beans twice (and she wasn’t just trying to get out of eating them!). The first time my friend used the Heimlich maneuver to pop out those beans – and the second time I did.

Kids choke on all kinds of things. Common choking hazards are round things that plug the airway like hotdog slices, grapes, marbles, coins, disc batteries, peanuts, popcorn and pieces of dog food (yup – kids will taste the dog’s food if they get a chance!).

As I learned, non-round foods can also be choking hazards when too much is shoved in at once. Some common offenders are raw veggies, peanut butter, meat, cheese, and chewing gum. Kids can also choke on any small thing they stick in their mouths – toys, rubber bands, hair clips, and buttons. Often these items can be removed by using the Heimlich maneuver.

Unfortunately, one of the deadliest choking hazards are latex balloons (and gloves) – these do not come out easily with abdominal thrusts.

Keep your children safe by:

  • Avoiding any toy that can fit entirely in their mouths.
  • Cutting any round food into smaller, non-round parts. 
  • Having kids sit when eating, teaching them to eat slowly and to not talk when their mouths are full.
  • Teaching older kids to not give younger siblings things they could choke on. 
  • Regularly checking your home for choking hazards. Keep an eye out for small things (coins, buttons, toys) dropped under furniture and between couch cushions. 
  • Not allowing kids to play with latex balloons or gloves. 
  • Learning how to use the Heimlich maneuver. 

My kids’ father, our friend, and I all knew how to save my kid’s lives because our jobs (teacher, flight attendant, and pediatrician) required us to be trained in CPR, including the Heimlich maneuver. Children choke – often! Learn how to use the Heimlich maneuver, or even better, get CPR certified (contact your local American Red Cross for classes) so that you too can save a life – your child’s or another’s.

Find more resources for parents:
My Doctor Online
American Red Cross 

American Academy of Pediatrics 
Choking Prevention 
Responding to a Choking Emergency

Disclaimer: If you have an emergency medical condition, call 911 or go to the nearest hospital. An emergency medical condition is any of the following: (1) a medical condition that manifests itself by acute symptoms of sufficient severity (including severe pain) such that you could reasonably expect the absence of immediate medical attention to result in serious jeopardy to your health or body functions or organs; (2) active labor when there isn't enough time for safe transfer to a Plan hospital (or designated hospital) before delivery, or if transfer poses a threat to your (or your unborn child's) health and safety, or (3) a mental disorder that manifests itself by acute symptoms of sufficient severity such that either you are an immediate danger to yourself or others, or you are not immediately able to provide for, or use, food, shelter, or clothing, due to the mental disorder. This information is not intended to diagnose health problems or to take the place of specific medical advice or care you receive from your physician or other health care professional. If you have persistent health problems, or if you have additional questions, please consult with your doctor. If you have questions or need more information about your medication, please speak to your pharmacist. Kaiser Permanente does not endorse the medications or products mentioned. Any trade names listed are for easy identification only.