top of page

Coughing and Choking



Coughing is a common symptom of childhood illness and one of the most common reasons for parents to take their children to the doctor. Coughing is a normal, safe, and necessary reflex that helps clear the throat and chest airways. They normally do not indicate that your child has a serious illness, despite the fact that they sound terrible and may be upsetting for both you and your child.  Sometimes coughing or choking is normal for children, but if it occurs often while eating or drinking and they are having trouble swallowing according to Stanford Children's Health it could be a more serious condition such as Dysphagia or GERD. 

Coughing protects the child's body by clearing the respiratory tract of mucus, irritating chemicals, and infections. This can happen after a choking episode, but the choking episode can go unnoticed, particularly in younger children. 


Causes of Cough in Children

  • Check to see if your child is choking if they unexpectedly start coughing without being sick. This necessitates urgent medical attention. A foreign body inhaled into the lungs, such as a piece of food or a toy, can also cause acute cough.

  • Stomach fluid going back up the throat is the source of persistent cough in some children. This is known as "reflux," and it can happen without causing heartburn. As a symptom, some children can develop a hoarse voice and/or choking. Your doctor may perform tests to see if acid is refluxing up from the stomach to see if this is the case.


Warning signs of Cough in Children

There are symptoms may indicate a serious cause of particular concern:

  • A blue tint to the lips and/or skin (cyanosis)

  • A loud squeaking noise (stridor) when the child breathes in

  • Difficulty breathing

  • An ill appearance


If a child's airway is fully blocked and they are unable to breathe, talk, or cough, they will exhibit any or all of the symptoms mentioned above, including intense attempts to breathe, becoming pale and then blue due to a lack of oxygen (cyanosis), and finally falling into unconsciousness.

Kids who seem to be choking and coughing but still can breathe and talk usually recover without help. It can be uncomfortable and upsetting for them, but they're generally fine after a few seconds.

What Is Choking?

When an object enters the trachea and partially or completely obstructs the airway, choking occurs. The infant will be unable to breathe adequately if the airflow into and out of the lungs is obstructed, and the brain will be deprived of oxygen. Since the brain can only live for a few minutes without oxygen, choking is a potentially fatal emergency.

The trachea is usually protected by a small flap of tissue called the epiglottis. The trachea and the esophagus share an opening at the back of the throat, which is the oropharynx. The epiglottis acts like a lid, snapping shut over the trachea each time a person swallows; it allows food to pass down the esophagus and prevents it from going down the trachea. However, on rare occasions, the epiglottis fails to close quickly enough, allowing an object to enter the trachea.

All children are at risk of choking, but those under the age of three are especially vulnerable because they frequently put objects in their mouth. Some small objects, such as marbles, beads, and button batteries, can become lodged in a child's airway and cause choking.

Choking can be mild or severe: in Mild choking: The child can make sounds and can cough loudly. Whereas in severe choking, the child cannot breathe , his cough without sound or he uses the choking sign, which is holding his neck with one or both hands. Children usually choke when they swallow food without properly chewing it or when they laugh while eating or drinking. If a child is choking and coughing but still able to breathe and speak, this indicates that the airway is not completely blocked.

Causes of Choking and Coughing

It is normal for a baby or young child to choke and cough from time to time. Children usually choke when they put objects in their mouths. If your child starts coughing unexpectedly, isn't ill, and has a habit of putting small objects in their mouth, they're probably choking.  They may choke if they eat too quickly or talk with food in their mouths. When this occurs frequently, there may be cause for concern. These episodes are typically caused by aspiration, which occurs when food or liquid enters the airway by accident.


Signs and symptoms of choking

  • Can’t breathe ,turns blue

  • Frantic coughing ,gasping or wheezing

  • Inability to talk, cry, or make noise

  • Panicked and distressed behavior

  • becomes unconscious

  • Unusual breathing sounds, such as wheezing or whistling


Indications of emergency medical care 

There is no need to seek emergency medical attention if a child appears to be choking but recovers completely after a coughing spell.

  • The child has a chronic cough, drooling, gagging, wheezing, trouble swallowing, or trouble breathing.

  • The child turned blue or was unconscious during the episode

  • the child swallowed an object, such as a toy or battery.


Suggestions to prevent choking 

 Young children tend to put things in their mouths, have smaller airways that are easily blocked, and lack chewing experience, so they may swallow things whole. To help prevent kids from choking the following are suggested :

  • Avoid foods that pose choking hazards (such as grapes, raw carrots, nuts, raisins, hard or gummy candy, chunks of meat, and popcorn) because they are the same size and shape as a child's airway. These foods should not be offered to children until they are at least three or four years old.


  • Hard foods should be cooked, mashed, grated 

  • Be sure to deliver a child's food in small bites at mealtime. Teach children not to talk or laugh while eating.

  • Toys and household items also can be choking hazards

  • Keep small objects out of reach of young children

  • Supervise your child while they are eating.

If you are concerned about your child coughing or choking while eating food or drinking, you may want to schedule a 15 minute consultation with one of our licensed therapists here.

bottom of page