In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan.


Choking or foreign body airway obstruction occurs when a foreign body such as food, coins, or toys partially or completely obstruct the passage of air from the upper airway into the trachea. Choking affects either in the very young or the elderly. In the young, the foreign body is likely to be food or a toy, while in the elderly it is almost always food.

There is a bimodal distribution in the ages of patients, affecting primarily the young between the ages of 1 to 3 years and the elderly who are greater than 60 years. In 2015, 5,051 people died from choking. Of those, 2,848 (56%) were older than 74. Choking is the fourth leading cause of unintentional death, the leading cause of infantile death, and the fourth leading cause of death among preschool children. The most common objects on which children choke are food, coins, balloons, and other toys. In a Center for Disease Control review of nonfatal choking episodes in children that were treated in the emergency department, 13% of choking episodes were associated with coins and 19% were caused by candy or gum. Latex balloons are the most likely fatal aspirated foreign body, accounting for 29% of deaths by foreign body aspiration between 1972 and 1992. In the same time period, hot dogs were the most fatal food aspiration, accounting for 17% of food-related aspiration fatalities

Of the adult fatalities associated with choking, there is a strong association with dementia (including Alzheimer disease) and Parkinson disease. Decreased salivation in the elderly is also implicated as this impairs the ability to transfer food during swallowing.

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