Choking or Gagging – How to Distinguish Between the Two

Choking and gagging could have fatal effects on kids, but both health emergencies are actually common. Of these two, choking is the more serious and is considered one of the leading causes of childhood mortality. This is why knowing how to prevent a baby from choking or gagging should be one of the first skills parents should learn.

How to Distinguish Between the Two

In this post, you’ll learn about the subtle difference between gagging and choking. And most importantly, you’ll learn some practical tips to save your kids from these emergencies.

Common Causes of Gagging and Choking in Kids

Kids’ health should be a priority. And keeping them safe from choking or gagging is one of the first steps to uphold their health. Studies point out that these two health emergencies could be due to different causes.

In a gist, gagging is a normal reflex action. Kids gag when they swallow the food too fast or the wrong way. It is their natural way of trying to expel the food they just ate. Some kids also gag while eating if they have:

  1. Low muscle tone around the mouth area, affecting the way they swallow
  2. GERD or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease
  3. Swollen tonsils
  4. Sensory processing disorder

Meanwhile, choking is a far more serious case than gagging. In the US alone, Science Daily reports that one child dies every 5 days on average due to choking. And in Australia, the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that choking and other breathing-related accidents account for 11% of child mortality rates in the country. Like gagging, choking in kids is commonly due to swallowing of solid foods, toys, or coins. Choking in kids is mainly due to airway blockage.

Different Signs of Gagging and Choking

Parents often panic at the first signs of either of these health conditions, especially if they don’t have ample knowledge on how to prevent a baby from choking or gagging. Contrary to popular belief, there are actually stark differences between these two.

When kids gag, their face usually turns pinkish or red. They’ll look frustrated as they thrust their tongue forward. Then, they’ll make gagging noises. This reaction might be due to their dislike of the foods or other health conditions affecting their mouth and swallowing capacity.

On the other hand, children who are choking might attempt to cough. But they often fail to make a noise. Their face turns blue. And they might lose consciousness.

For many parents, these signs of choking and gagging happen when weaning. Training kids to eat solid foods requires skill and patience. Kids need to like their first taste of foods. And you need to ensure foodstuffs are small enough for them to swallow with ease.

Gagging and Choking

Practical Tips to Help Kids Avoid Choking or Gagging

If you’re in the process of weaning your kids, it helps to know how to prevent a baby from choking and gagging. The following insights can help you wean your babies effectively:

  • Don’t force them to eat. Be creative with your foods and way of feeding them.
  • Make sure your kids are seated upright when feeding them. Don’t give them food when they’re distracted.
  • Don’t interrupt gagging because doing so can cause panic.
  • Avoid foods that are round, firm, and small (e.g., grapes, popcorn, blueberries).
  • Don’t give kids too much food.
  • Follow the recommended portion sizes for babies.

Ways to Save Kids from Choking

The fastest way to save kids from choking is to give them five chest thrusts and five back blows.

To use this method for kids 1 year old and younger, start by placing the baby on your forearm with their face down. Rest your forearm on your thigh. And with your other hand, give them five quick blows between their shoulder blades. If this doesn’t ease their choking, let the infant lie on their back. Then, give them five thrusts on the middle of the breast bone below the nipples.

For older kids, those who are 1 to 12 years old, doing the Heimlich maneuver might help. But if you’re not trained to do this method, it’s best to just call the local emergency hotline.

Yes, many people often use choking and gagging to mean the same thing. But these two health emergencies are actually different. And knowing the fatal effects choking, it helps to know how these two terms are different for better emergency response.

Shahid Maqsood


Shahid Maqsood is an experienced writer and journalist with 10+ years in the industry. He is the CEO and founder of TheWisy, where he writes daily articles covering topics like books, business, news, sports, and more. Shahid holds an MBA from Virtual University of Pakistan and a Master's in Mass Communications. He is based in Faisalabad, Pakistan. His work spans multiple platforms like and, , airriflehunting, and showcasing his versatility and depth. Shahid's insightful articles reflect his expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness, making him a respected and reliable voice in digital content creation. His contributions engage and inform readers, embodying professionalism and passion in every piece.