Acute Cough — Sudden Onset While Eating

Suspect a possible Foreign Body Aspiration 

A “foreign body” is the term for something from the outside (nothing to do with nationalities nor sex).ย  It can range from a big hunk of meat to a tiny piece of carrot.ย  We might suspect this if the cough began very abruptly while eating.ย  Small children and elderly with diminished swallowing ability are at risk, but it can happen to anyone who gobbles.

If the person canโ€™t breathe, call 911 (best done from a land line, so the ambulance can locate you for sure).  If itโ€™s you, and youโ€™re alone, be sure to unlock & open the door.  If all you have is a cell, stumble out to the street.  See Calling 911.

Only perform a Heimlich maneuver on somebody who’s not only struggling to breathe, but can’t even make a sound — no air passing.  NEVER do it on someone whoโ€™s actively coughing.

If our patient looks OK, just has a cough and normal lung exam, we find another diagnosis.ย  A Foreign Body thatโ€™s worked its way down into the lung, past the cough receptors, doesnโ€™t cause cough unless Pneumonia develops.ย  Then the work-up is complex and tricky; we only pursue the possibility if a patient has recurrent pneumonias in the same part of the lung.

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