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Foreign object - inhaled

Obstructed airway; Blocked airway

If you breathe a foreign object into your nose, mouth, or respiratory tract, it may become stuck. This can cause breathing problems or choking. The area around the object also can become inflamed or infected.

Considerations

Children ages 6 months to 3 years are the age group most likely to breathe in (inhale) a foreign object. These items may include nuts, coins, toys, balloons, or other small items or foods.

Causes

Young children can easily inhale small foods (nuts, seeds, or popcorn) and objects (buttons, beads, or parts of toys) when playing or eating. This may cause a partial or total airway blockage.

Young children have smaller airways than adults. They also can't move enough air when coughing to dislodge an object. Therefore, a foreign object is more likely to get stuck and block the passage.

Symptoms

Symptoms include:

  • Choking
  • Coughing
  • Difficulty speaking
  • No breathing or breathing trouble (respiratory distress)
  • Turning blue, red or white in the face
  • Wheezing
  • Chest, throat or neck pain

Sometimes, only minor symptoms are seen at first. The object may be forgotten until symptoms such as inflammation or infection develop.

First Aid

First aid may be performed on an infant or older child who has inhaled an object. First aid measures include:

  • Back blows or chest compressions for infants
  • Abdominal thrusts for older children

Be sure you are trained to perform these first aid measures.

Any child who may have inhaled an object should be seen by a doctor. A child with a total airway blockage requires emergency medical help.

If choking or coughing goes away, and the child does not have any other symptoms, he or she should be watched for signs and symptoms of infection or irritation. X-rays may be needed.

A procedure called bronchoscopy may be needed to confirm the diagnosis and to remove the object. Antibiotics and breathing therapy may be needed if an infection develops.

Do Not

DO NOT force feed infants who are crying or breathing rapidly. This may cause the baby to inhale liquid or solid food into their airway.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call a health care provider or local emergency number (such as 911) if you think a child has inhaled a foreign object.

Prevention

Preventive measures include:

  • Keep small objects out of the reach of young children.
  • Discourage talking, laughing, or playing while food is in the mouth.
  • Do not give potentially dangerous foods such as hot dogs, whole grapes, nuts, popcorn, food with bones, or hard candy to children under age 3.
  • Teach children to avoid placing foreign objects into their noses and other body openings.

References

Marcdante KJ, Kliegman RM. Upper airway obstruction. In: Kliegman RM, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Essentials of Pediatrics. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2015:chap 135.

Schroeder JW, Holinger LD. Foreign bodies in the airway. In: Kliegman RM, Stanton BF, St. Geme JW, Schor NF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 20th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 387.

Shah SR, Little DC. Ingestion of foreign bodies. In: Holcomb GW, Murphy JP, Ostlie DJ, eds. Ashcraft's Pediatric Surgery. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 11.

Thomas SH, Goodloe JM. Foreign bodies. In Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA.: Elsevier; 2018:chap 53.

Text only

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    Lungs

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  • Heimlich maneuver on adult

    Heimlich maneuver on adult - illustration

    Choking is fairly common. Choking deaths occur most commonly in children less than 3 years old and in senior citizens, but can occur at any age. The Heimlich maneuver has been valuable in saving lives and can be administered by anyone who has learned the technique.

    Heimlich maneuver on adult

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  • Heimlich maneuver on an adult

    Heimlich maneuver on an adult - illustration

    Choking is fairly common. Choking deaths occur most commonly in children less than 3 years old and in senior citizens, but can occur at any age. The Heimlich maneuver has been valuable in saving lives and can be administered by anyone who has learned the technique.

    Heimlich maneuver on an adult

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  • Heimlich maneuver on oneself

    Heimlich maneuver on oneself - illustration

    Choking is fairly common. Choking deaths occur most commonly in children less than 3 years and in senior citizens, but can occur at any age. The Heimlich maneuver has been valuable in saving lives and can be administered by anyone who has learned the technique. When no one else is around, the Heimlich maneuver can be performed as shown.

    Heimlich maneuver on oneself

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  • Heimlich maneuver on infant

    Heimlich maneuver on infant - illustration

    Choking is fairly common. Choking deaths occur most commonly in children less than 3 years old and in senior citizens, but can occur at any age. The Heimlich maneuver has been valuable in saving lives and can be administered by anyone who has learned the technique.

    Heimlich maneuver on infant

    illustration

  • Heimlich maneuver on infant

    Heimlich maneuver on infant - illustration

    Choking is fairly common. Choking deaths occur most commonly in children less than 3 years old and in senior citizens, but can occur at any age. The Heimlich maneuver has been valuable in saving lives and can be administered by anyone who has learned the technique.

    Heimlich maneuver on infant

    illustration

  • Heimlich maneuver on conscious child

    Heimlich maneuver on conscious child - illustration

    Choking is fairly common. Choking deaths occur most commonly in children less than 3 years old and in senior citizens, but can occur at any age. The Heimlich maneuver has been valuable in saving lives and can be administered by anyone who has learned the technique.

    Heimlich maneuver on conscious child

    illustration

  • Heimlich maneuver on conscious child

    Heimlich maneuver on conscious child - illustration

    Choking is fairly common. Choking deaths occur most commonly in children less than 3 years old and in senior citizens, but can occur at any age. The Heimlich maneuver has been valuable in saving lives and can be administered by anyone who has learned the technique.

    Heimlich maneuver on conscious child

    illustration

    • Lungs

      Lungs - illustration

      The major features of the lungs include the bronchi, the bronchioles and the alveoli. The alveoli are the microscopic blood vessel-lined sacks in which oxygen and carbon dioxide gas are exchanged.

      Lungs

      illustration

    • Heimlich maneuver on adult

      Heimlich maneuver on adult - illustration

      Choking is fairly common. Choking deaths occur most commonly in children less than 3 years old and in senior citizens, but can occur at any age. The Heimlich maneuver has been valuable in saving lives and can be administered by anyone who has learned the technique.

      Heimlich maneuver on adult

      illustration

    • Heimlich maneuver on an adult

      Heimlich maneuver on an adult - illustration

      Choking is fairly common. Choking deaths occur most commonly in children less than 3 years old and in senior citizens, but can occur at any age. The Heimlich maneuver has been valuable in saving lives and can be administered by anyone who has learned the technique.

      Heimlich maneuver on an adult

      illustration

    • Heimlich maneuver on oneself

      Heimlich maneuver on oneself - illustration

      Choking is fairly common. Choking deaths occur most commonly in children less than 3 years and in senior citizens, but can occur at any age. The Heimlich maneuver has been valuable in saving lives and can be administered by anyone who has learned the technique. When no one else is around, the Heimlich maneuver can be performed as shown.

      Heimlich maneuver on oneself

      illustration

    • Heimlich maneuver on infant

      Heimlich maneuver on infant - illustration

      Choking is fairly common. Choking deaths occur most commonly in children less than 3 years old and in senior citizens, but can occur at any age. The Heimlich maneuver has been valuable in saving lives and can be administered by anyone who has learned the technique.

      Heimlich maneuver on infant

      illustration

    • Heimlich maneuver on infant

      Heimlich maneuver on infant - illustration

      Choking is fairly common. Choking deaths occur most commonly in children less than 3 years old and in senior citizens, but can occur at any age. The Heimlich maneuver has been valuable in saving lives and can be administered by anyone who has learned the technique.

      Heimlich maneuver on infant

      illustration

    • Heimlich maneuver on conscious child

      Heimlich maneuver on conscious child - illustration

      Choking is fairly common. Choking deaths occur most commonly in children less than 3 years old and in senior citizens, but can occur at any age. The Heimlich maneuver has been valuable in saving lives and can be administered by anyone who has learned the technique.

      Heimlich maneuver on conscious child

      illustration

    • Heimlich maneuver on conscious child

      Heimlich maneuver on conscious child - illustration

      Choking is fairly common. Choking deaths occur most commonly in children less than 3 years old and in senior citizens, but can occur at any age. The Heimlich maneuver has been valuable in saving lives and can be administered by anyone who has learned the technique.

      Heimlich maneuver on conscious child

      illustration


     

    Review Date: 4/4/2018

    Reviewed By: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Emeritus, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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