To provide appropriate care to infants and children who become suddenly ill or injured, you must be aware of the anatomic differences between children and adults as well as the nature of the emergencies in which children and infants are most often involved.

Anatomical Differences

The most significant anatomical difference between adults, children, and infants involve the airway.

  • Children and infants have proportionately larger tongues than adults. It is easier for the tongue of a child or infant to block the airway. In addition, placing pressure under the chin while opening the airway can push a child’s or infant;s tongue back and block the airway.
  • Newborns and infants tend to breathe through the nose, not the mouth. If their nose is stuffed up or blocked, they may not open the mouth to breathe, resulting in respiratory distress or arrest.
  • Infants and toddlers have proportionately smaller tracheae than adults, from about 4 mm for a newborn to about the size of a straw for a toddler. This means a greater risk of choking due to anaphylaxis or swallowing certain foods.
  • Children under 5 years of age breathe at a rate two to three times faster than that of adults. Their breathing is also shallower as less volume and pressure are needed to ventilate the lungs.