Choking is when an infant can't breathe because food, a toy, or other object is blocking the airway (throat or windpipe).
A choking infant's airway may be completely or partially blocked. A complete blockage is a medical emergency. A partial obstruction can quickly become life threatening if the infant loses the ability to breathe in and out sufficiently.
Without oxygen, permanent brain damage can occur in as little as 4 minutes. Rapid first aid for choking can save a life.
Choking in infants is usually caused by inhaling a small object that they have placed in their mouth, such as a button, coin, balloon, toy part, or watch battery.
Review Date: 07/08/2009
Reviewed By: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington, Clinic. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.