More than 94% of cases of asphyxia due to choking occur in children under the age of seven — Português (Brasil)

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Asphyxia is the difficulty or interruption of breathing that leads to a lack of oxygen in the body. Cases of choking usually occur when the child puts any object in the mouth or nose that restricts the passage of air. The greatest risk is the possibility of the object being aspirated into the lung.

According to the Brazilian Society of Pediatrics, foreign body aspiration is observed mainly in male children, aged 1 to 3 years. More than 50% of aspirations occur in children younger than 4 years and more than 94% before 7 years of age.

Until the age of three, the child does not control chewing and swallowing of food due to the lack of molar teeth, an important structure in the grinding of solid food. Offering some foods to children in this age group, such as peanuts, beans, popcorn and corn, poses a risk of aspiration as they swallow without chewing. Any distraction, laughter, joke or scare can cause an accident. In addition, children at this age are in the habit of putting objects in their mouths.

Any material can become a foreign body in the respiratory system. The biggest suspicion that an accident has occurred is choking. Shortly after aspiration of an object, there is a coughing fit, followed by choking. Aspiration should also be considered when there is a sudden onset of wheezing in children with no family history of allergies.

Some signs should be alert for a suspected aspiration:

  • Persistent cough;
  • Wheezing in the chest;
  • Sudden shortness of breath;
  • Hoarseness;
  • Purple lips and fingernails.

When foreign body aspiration is partial, the child may cough and make sounds. In this situation, the best procedure is non-intervention in the domestic environment and referral to a health service for definitive treatment.

But when the aspiration of the object is total, the child cannot make any sound, in addition to showing other signs, such as shortness of breath and purplish lips. In these cases, proceed as follows:

  • Over one year old: Heimlich maneuver, which consists of compressions below the ribs, with an upward direction, hugging the child from behind until the foreign body is displaced from the airway to the mouth and expelled.

  • Under one year old: 5 taps with the hand on the back region, the child’s head facing downwards, followed by 5 compressions on the front until the foreign body is expelled or the child responds and reacts again.

The Heimlich maneuver is a first aid technique that can be performed by any trained person, regardless of whether or not they are a healthcare professional. Parents and caregivers must have the knowledge to perform it correctly.

Attending to airway obstruction and consequent asphyxia is an urgent procedure, where health professionals seek to reestablish the patient’s airway as quickly and efficiently as possible, according to each specific case.

early childhood care

During the first week of December, the Ministry of Health disseminates a series of contents on specific care in early childhood, a moment that includes the age group from zero to six years old. Follow along.

Fran Martins
Ministry of Health



Official content – Fact Check – Verified

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