Airway obstruction in children aged less than 5 years: the prehospital experience

Prehosp Emerg Care. Apr-Jun 2004;8(2):196-9. doi: 10.1016/j.prehos.2003.12.014.


Background: Treatment of choking in children has been well studied, but few data are available on the various causes of the choking episodes in the pediatric population.

Objectives: To assess frequency and to stratify etiologies of children less than 5 years of age who had a 911 advanced life support (ALS) ambulance response for airway obstruction.

Methods: A prehospital database was searched and information was collected defining type of obstruction, age of the child, parents' action, paramedic treatment, and incident outcome.

Results: There were 182 patients with airway obstruction under 5 years of age, of whom 99 (55%) were less than 1 year old. Liquid obstructions (i.e., formula, juices) were most common in the youngest children, whereas solid food and nonfood solid obstructions were most prevalent in children over 1 year old. One hundred seven (59%) of these obstructions resolved before paramedic arrival (69% of liquid obstructions, 72% of food, and 36% of nonfood solid objects). Interventions used by parents included bulb suction (3%), finger sweeps (6%), Heimlich maneuver (3%), and back blows (12%). Paramedics used ALS skills in only three cases. After paramedic evaluation, 47% of parents refused transport against medical advice (AMA).

Conclusions: Although most episodes of pediatric airway obstruction will have been resolved by the time of paramedic arrival, age-specific and item-specific treatment skills need to be reinforced with parents and prehospital providers.

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Airway Obstruction / epidemiology
  • Airway Obstruction / etiology*
  • Airway Obstruction / therapy*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Emergency Medical Services / methods
  • Emergency Medical Technicians / education
  • Emergency Treatment / methods*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Parents / education