Partial airway blockage: choking signs

The following signs can tell you that a child’s airway is partially blocked:

  • loss of voice
  • choking noises
  • coughing that keeps getting worse
  • gagging
  • wheezing
  • anxiety and agitation
  • stridor (a shrill, rattling sound when breathing in)
  • sudden chest pain.

Complete airway blockage: choking signs

The following signs can tell you that a child’s airway is completely blocked:

  • The child can’t breathe.
  • The child can’t make any sounds.
  • No air is getting out of the child’s nose and/or mouth.
  • The child’s skin goes pale or blue in colour.
  • The child starts to lose consciousness quickly.

Airways can become blocked when a child has an anaphylactic reaction, vomits during a seizure or becomes unconscious. Make sure you know your emergency action plan if your child has any of these conditions.

Choking first aid for airway blockage

If a child under one year is choking, here’s what to do:

  1. Phone 000 immediately.
  2. Lay the child downwards on your forearm.
  3. Use the heel of your hand to give five firm back blows. Check whether the blockage has cleared between each back blow.
  4. If the blockage hasn’t cleared, lay the child on her back, and give her up to five chest thrusts. Check whether the blockage has cleared between each thrust.
  5. If the child is still choking, alternate five back blows and five chest thrusts until emergency help arrives.

For a child aged over one year, here’s what to do:

  1. Encourage the child to lean forward and cough. If that doesn’t clear the blockage, phone 000 immediately.
  2. Use the heel of your hand to give five firm back blows. Check whether the blockage has cleared between each back blow.
  3. If the blockage hasn’t cleared, place one hand in the middle of the child’s back and the other hand in the centre of his chest.
  4. Using the heel of the hand on the chest, do five chest thrusts. Check whether the blockage has cleared between each thrust.
  5. If the child is still choking, alternate five back blows and five chest thrusts until emergency helps arrives.
Check out our illustrated guide to choking first aid. You could print it out and stick it somewhere handy, like your fridge.