Pediatric Upper Airway Obstruction

Pediatric Upper Airway Obstruction



Pediatric upper airway obstruction occurs when a foreign object or medical condition blocks the windpipe (trachea), voice box (larynx) or throat (pharynx).

Expanded Summary

The upper airways include the nose, nasal passages, sinuses, throat and voice box. When these airways become obstructed (blocked), it can lead to complications. The anatomy of children’s upper airways makes them more vulnerable to upper airway obstruction.


Viral croup is one of the most common conditions that causes upper airway obstruction in children and can sound like a loud, “barking” cough. Swallowing a foreign object is another common cause of upper airway obstruction in children below 3-years old. 

Other causes include: 

  • Allergic reactions that cause the trachea or throat to swell closed (bee sting, peanuts)
  • Chemical burns or reactions
  • Epiglottitis (caused by an infection of the structure that separates the trachea from the esophagus)
  • Fire or burns from breathing in smoke
  • Foreign bodies, such as peanuts and other inhaled foods, pieces of a balloon, buttons, coins and small toys
  • Infections of the upper airway area
  • Injury to the upper airway area


Symptoms that your child's airway is blocked include:

  • Agitation or fidgeting
  • Bluish color to the skin (cyanosis)
  • Changes in consciousness
  • Choking
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Gasping for air
  • Panic
  • Wheezing, whistling, or other unusual breathing noises that indicate breathing difficulty

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