What causes choking? 17 possible conditions

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What Is Choking?

Choking occurs when an object, food, or liquid becomes lodged in the throat. Children often choke as a result of placing foreign objects into their mouths. Adults normally choke due to breathing in fumes or eating or drinking too rapidly. Most people choke at some point in their lives. It is usually short-lived and doesn’t pose any real danger. However, choking can be dangerous and cause life-threatening complications.

Identifying a Choking Person

Know the signs of choking. A person who is choking may cough continuously until the food or liquid is expelled from the throat or airway. However, in some cases the object, food, or liquid becomes lodged in the throat, cutting off the air supply.

A person who is choking may display the following emergency signs:

  • inability to speak
  • inability to cough
  • inability to make noise
  • inability to breathe
  • blue tint to the lips, skin, or nails from lack of oxygen

The person may also have his or her hands crossed over the throat to let you know he or she is choking.

Emergency Care

Use the Red Cross’s five-and-five method to treat a person who’s choking.

  • Use the heel of your hand to hit the person’s back five times between the shoulder blades.
  • Perform the Heimlich maneuver five times.
  • Alternate between the previous two options until the person is no longer choking.

To do the Heimlich maneuver, perform the following steps:

  • Stand behind the person with your arms wrapped around his or her waist.
  • Lean the person forward.
  • Ball your hand into a fist and place it on the person’s abdomen above the navel.
  • Use your free hand to grip your fist and press into the person’s abdomen in an upward motion.
  • Repeat this method five times. If the object is still lodged in the person’s throat, repeat the steps five more times.

If the person is unconscious, clear his or her airway if you see what’s blocking it. You can do this using your finger. However, be careful not to push the object further into the throat.

Call 911, and then begin CPR. To perform CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation):

  • lay the person down on a flat surface
  • kneel on the side of the unconscious person
  • place your hand in the middle of their chest, palm downplace your free hand over the top of the other lean forward with your shoulders
  • push down quickly

This is called a chest compression. Repeat this process several times as needed.

Do not give a child the five-and-five method. Only give a child the Heimlich maneuver.

Choking Hazards

Children usually choke when placing objects into their mouths. Children normally do this out of curiosity. However, they may also choke when eating too quickly or when talking with food in their mouths.

Common objects that children choke on include:

  • popcorn
  • candy
  • pencil erasers
  • carrots
  • hotdogs
  • chewing gum
  • peanuts
  • cherry tomatoes
  • whole grapes
  • large pieces of fruit and vegetables

Adults usually choke when swallowing food without chewing it properly or when laughing while eating or drinking.

Choking Complications

Complications of choking include:

  • throat damage (irritation)
  • death from asphyxiation

Preventing Choking

Prevent your child from choking by keeping his or her play area free of small objects, such as coins, erasers, and Lego blocks. Chop your child’s food into small pieces, making it easier for him or her to swallow. Discourage your child from talking while eating.

Prevent yourself from choking by:

  • chewing your food completely
  • avoiding talking while eating
  • avoiding laughing while eating
  • keeping water near you while eating

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See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.

1

Swallowed (or Inhaled) Foreign Object

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Swallowing a foreign object can happen to anyone but is more common in children and in the elderly. Symptoms are often visually obvious and include choking, wheezing, and skin discoloration.

Read more »

2

Near Drowning

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Near-drowning is a term used to describe almost dying from suffocating under water. It is the last stage before actual drowning, which often results in death. Near-drowning victims still require medical attention t...

Read more »

3

Myasthenia Gravis

Myasthenia gravis is a neuromusclar disorder. It results in weakness of the skeletal muscles, and can cause double vision and drooping of the eyelid.

Read more »

4

Anaphylaxis

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

When people with severe allergies are exposed to their allergen, a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis can result: a series of symptoms such as rash, abdominal pain, and difficulty breathing and shock.

Read more »

5

Food Allergy Basics

Food allergies are overblown responses by the immune system to foods that aren't typically harmful - like eggs and peanuts. Continue reading and learn more about food allergies, and how to prevent or treat sever...

Read more »

6

Allergies Overview

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

An allergy is the immune system's response to a foreign substance (allergen) that is not typically harmful to a person's body. This attack response may involve inflammation, sneezing, and a host of other symptoms.

Read more »

7

Panic Disorder

Panic disorder occurs when you live in fear of having a panic attack. You are having a panic attack when you feel sudden, overwhelming terror that has no obvious cause. You may experience physical symptoms such as ...

Read more »

8

Agoraphobia With Panic Attacks

A panic attack is a feeling of sudden fear that does not have a reasonable cause. This causes symptoms such as a fast heartbeat and chest pain. If you have multiple panic attacks in different settings, you are said t...

Read more »

9

Central Sleep Apnea

Central sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which you briefly stop breathing during sleep. The moments of apnea can occur repeatedly throughout the night. The interruption of your breathing happens may indicate a proble...

Read more »

10

Head Injury

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

A head injury could be an injury to the brain, skull, or scalp. It can vary in severity depending on the cause. In some cases face swelling can be a sign of a head injury.

Read more »

11

Parkinson's Disease

Parkinson's disease (PD) is a progressive neurological disorder. It first presents with problems of movement. Smooth and coordinated muscle movements of the body are made possible by a substance in the brain calle...

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12

Stroke Overview

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

A stroke is a medical emergency where part of the brain is deprived of oxygen. There are four major kinds of stroke: cerebral thrombosis, cerebral embolism, subarachnoid hemorrhage & intracerebral hemorrhage.

Read more »

13

Spinal Cord Injury

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

A spinal cord injury, or damage to the spinal cord, is an extremely serious type of physical trauma. It will likely have a lasting and significant impact on most aspects of daily life. According to the Nationa...

Read more »

14

Muscular Dystrophies

Muscular dystrophies are a group of diseases that are passed down genetically. These diseases cause damage and weakness to muscles over time. This damage and weakness is caused by the lack of a protein calle...

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15

Whooping Cough (Pertussis)

Whooping cough is a serious respiratory infection caused by a type of bacteria called Bordetella pertussis. The infection causes violent, uncontrollable coughing that can make it difficult to breathe. While whoopin...

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16

Polio

Polio (also known as poliomyelitis) is a highly contagious disease caused by a virus that attacks the nervous system. Children younger than 5 years old are more likely to contract the virus than any other group...

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17

Multiple Sclerosis Overview

Multiple sclerosis (MS) affects an estimated 300,000 to 400,000 individuals in the United States and over two million worldwide. Although it is considered a relatively rare disease, MS is of particular interest recentl...

Read more »

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.
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