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First Aid: What To Do When Your Child Starts Choking

Written By Anvi Sharma

We all hope we’re never in a dire situation that put’s a child’s life at risk, but unfortunate things can happen and it’s always best to be prepared.

Choking is a real risk for children who are prone to putting small objects in their mouths.  It can be extremely stressful and dangerous for a parent.

Choking usually involves a small object such as food or a toy, lodged in a child’s throat which can prevent air from flowing into their lungs. If airflow is blocked, the brain can be deprived of oxygen which can be a life-threatening emergency.

Of course, your first call would be to contact the ambulance, but in serious cases, there often isn’t enough time to contact emergency services. Therefore, knowing what to do in a risky situation such as this can help save a life.

Here are some of the first aid basics for choking.

Prevention

Of course, the best way cure for something is prevention. Keeping small hazardous objects away and out of reach from children and babies is an important habit to learn.

Cutting up food into small pieces and supervising children when they are eating and drinking is also advised, particularly when they are still under the age of five. Don’t try and feed a child when he/she is laughing, crying, running around or behaving hysterically as this can also cause them to choke.

It’s important to talk to your children about the dangers of choking and why they should be careful, remain calm and eat sitting down.

 

What Signs to Look for:

Assessing the situation is key, and knowing what to look for can save crucial time when it comes to choking. Unfortunately, babies can’t communicate such things clearly and that is why it is up to you to recognise when the child is in danger of choking.

A child may need help if he/she:

  • Has unusual breathing sounds such as gasping, wheezing or coughing
  • Is unable to talk, cry or make any noise
  • Is grabbing at their throat
  • Is waving their arms around/panicked behaviour
  • Is turning pale or blue
  • Has watery eyes
  • Is unconscious or limp

It’s important to note that sometimes a small object may be stuck in your child’s throat, but if they can breathe and talk normally, then the airway is not completely blocked.

Try getting them to cough the object out or down, they will most likely be fine and there isn’t much cause for concern.

It’s advised that you don’t reach into the mouth to grab the object as this could make the situation worse. Remain patient until the coughing fit passes.

What to Do:

If your child is old enough to understand you, begin with asking them to remain calm and encourage them to breathe and cough to try and remove the object lodged in their throat. If you have come to the conclusion that the child is choking, shout for help. If there are people nearby, ask someone to call an ambulance. If you are alone, call 000 immediately and stay on the phone with the operator while you attend to the child.

If the child is unconscious, you should remove any obstructions from their mouth and attempt CPR after ensuring an ambulance is on the way.

Babies:

  1. Get the baby into position by holding them face down on your forearm, supporting them with your thigh. Make sure the baby’s torso region is positioned higher than their head so that gravity can do its job.
  2. Using the heel of your hand, thump the child in between the shoulder blades. Give them up to five back blows and check to see if the blockage has cleared.
  3. Turn the child over, face up, and keep supporting their head and neck. If the object isn’t out yet, place them back on your forearm but facing up this time.
  4. Using two or three fingers, push the centre of the baby’s breastbone around five times. Repeat the back thumping and chest thrusts until the object comes out.
  5. Open the baby’s airway by putting your thumb in their mouth and grasping the lower gums so the jaw is lifted up. You can look for the object and try and remove it only if you can see it clearly.
  6. If the object is still lodged in the throat and the baby begins to lose consciousness, perform CPR and call 000.

Children:

  1. Tell the child to remain as calm as they can, and to try and cough the object that is stuck in their throat out.
  2. Bend the child over, either while sitting on a chair or standing up, and use the heel of your hand to give their back a sharp blow between the shoulder blades.
  3. Repeat step 2 up to five times, and see if the blockage has cleared before continuing. If the object is still there, try step 4.
  4. Placing one hand in the middle of the child’s back, use the heel of your other hand to do five chest thrusts (similar to CPR compressions but slower and sharper).
  5. Alternate between the two steps, checking to see if the blockage has cleared each time.
  6. If the object still remains lodged, call 000. The child may start to lose consciousness after a while. You should perform CPR until the ambulance arrives.

Things to Keep in Mind:

  • Don’t slap or pat the child on the back if they are able to cough. Doing so may cause the object to be lodged further into the airway. Always try and get them to cough as a first option. Also, do not slap them when they are upright as gravity may cause the object to move further down the windpipe.
  • Keep reminding the child to try and breathe or cough and remain conscious.
  • Do not try to dislodge the object by squeezing the child’s stomach. This may move the object into a worse situation and cause the child more harm than good. Only remove the object from the child’s mouth if you can see it, otherwise it is imperative that you do not try and pull it out.
  • Don’t let the child out of your sight. Stay with them and monitor their breathing.
  • Take the child to a doctor if they continue to have trouble breathing even after you think the object obstructing their airways has been removed.

Note: All information provided here is only a basic guide. Further advice should be gathered from qualified professionals, and first aid courses are highly recommended. 

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