A Blog From Your Kaiser Permanente Physicians

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

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