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Choking

Facts on Choking

Choking is a blockage of the upper airway by food or other objects, which prevents a person from breathing effectively. Choking can cause a simple coughing fit, but complete blockage of the airway may lead to death.

Choking is a true medical emergency that requires fast, appropriate action by anyone available. Emergency medical teams may not arrive in time to save a choking person's life.

Breathing is an essential part of life. When we inhale, we breathe in a mix of nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide, and other gases.

  • In the lungs, oxygen enters the bloodstream to travel to the rest of the body. Our bodies use oxygen as a fuel source to make energy from the food we eat. Carbon dioxide, a waste product, enters the bloodstream and travels back to the lungs.
  • When we exhale, we breathe out carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and oxygen.
  • When someone is choking with a completely blocked airway, no oxygen can enter the lungs. The brain is extremely sensitive to this lack of oxygen and begins to die within four to six minutes. It is during this time that first aid must take place. Irreversible brain death occurs in as little as 10 minutes.

Choking Causes

Choking is caused when a piece of food or other object gets stuck in the upper airway.

  • In the back of the mouth are two openings. One is the esophagus, which leads to the stomach; food goes down this pathway. The other is the trachea, which is the opening air must pass through to get to the lungs. When swallowing occurs, the trachea is covered by a flap called the epiglottis, which prevents food from entering the lungs. The trachea splits into the left and right main stem bronchae. These lead to the left and right lungs. They branch into increasingly smaller tubes as they spread throughout the lungs.
  • Any object that ends up in the airway will become stuck as the airway narrows. Many large objects get stuck just inside the trachea at the vocal cords.

In adults, choking most often occurs when food is not chewed properly. Talking or laughing while eating may cause a piece of food to "go down the wrong pipe." Normal swallowing mechanisms may be slowed if a person has been drinking alcohol or taking drugs, and if the person has certain illnesses such as Parkinson's disease.

  • In older adults, risk factors for choking include advancing age, poor fitting dental work, and alcohol consumption.
  • In children, choking is often caused by chewing food incompletely, attempting to eat large pieces of food or too much food at one time, or eating hard candy. Children also put small objects in their mouths, which may become lodged in their throat. Nuts, pins, marbles, or coins, for example, create a choking hazard.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/14/2016
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Patient Comments & Reviews

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Choking Prevention in Small Children

Young children can easily choke on food and everyday objects. You can help prevent your child from choking by offering the right kinds of foods and watching for choking hazards.

SOURCE:
Healthwise



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