“Oh my God! Oh my God! Is he choking?” Three years ago, five-year-old Farhan put a coin in his mouth and started choking. His mother kept saying the above while walking in circles around him! What do you think she was doing? She was panicking! Fatal accidents, especially with children, render the strongest among us, weak. Handling choking hazards can be tricky.
Handling Choking Hazards: What Should Parents Do?
“We need to start at the basics.” Dr Kalele, a Delhi-based paediatrician, says that when parents want to learn about handling choking hazards, they should begin with the basics. He pinpoints two aspects under these ‘basics’–the first one is recognition/acknowledgement of day-to-day activities, objects plus eatables as threats; the second is medical awareness or Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
Like Dr Kalele mentions, it’s important to know and recognise objects/causes that can lead to choking in children. Based on this knowledge, we should figure a way out (without panicking), should such an eventuality occur.
6 Ways For Handling Choking Hazards In Kids – Without Having A Panic Attack
1) Check, check, check!
“How do you know that your child is choking?” Dr Kalele says that before we even understand how to avoid choking hazards, we should be able to assess whether or not our child is choking. This is in keeping with the fact that children will not tell you before putting hazardous things in their mouths. Besides, accidents never inform and happen.
So here’s a brief checklist
- Breathlessness in children can be due to minor choking.
- Bouts of soundless/soft cough might be due to choking.
- No or muffled sound when trying to speak is a clear sign of choking.
- Visible discomfort and flapping hands/legs while trying to breathe is definitely due to choking.
- Changing skin colour (extremely red or bluish green) is also a clear sign of choking.
- Sudden dizziness or fainting can be due to choking.
- “Apart from these, allergies which swell the throat and tongue can also cause choking,” adds Dr Kalele. One such reaction is from teething medicines that accidentally touch the tongue or throat.
God forbid you ever have to witness these signs. However as they say, knowledge is power and so, keep a check!
2) Mind the posture
“How you eat is as important as what you eat, in children at least.” Dr Kalele says that eating while jumping around, running, or even while walking can cause a choking hazard in children, which is why keeping a correct posture during eating is important.
- For newborns who are being weaned, food should be smooth and pulpy since much cannot be done about their posture even on a feeding chair. In case your newborn does choke on any small particle of food, immediately lay him/her down on a soft mattress and rub the back. Visit a doctor thereafter.
- “Crying helps,” says Dr Kalele, and suggests that for babies and toddlers, giving chest/tummy thrusts help. The thrusts release the food plus make the babies cry and ease the choke. A thrust means giving sudden jerks to the tummy or chest of the child while holding him/her face down.
- For toddlers and preschoolers, always make them maintain an erect posture while eating.
- Not talking with your mouth full is an old rule that still applies!
- In case they happen to choke, use the same thrust procedure to push the food out.
- Once the choke has released, visit a paediatrician immediately for an internal examination.
A reminder: While handling choking hazards or doing all/any of the above, don’t panic!
3) Don’t eat and drive!
According to Dr Kalele, eating in the car is not as ‘normal’ as we presume it to be. When the parent is busy driving, the chances of children eating quickly and inattentively are very high. This may lead to choking which is why eating in the car should be avoided at least till 8 years of age.
- In case your child is eating when you are driving and he/she has choked on food, the first thing to do is to stop the car slowly. Dr Kalele says that panicking and coming to a sudden stop might worsen the situation as he/she might choke further or might hurt other parts of his/her body due to a bouncy halt.
- Step out of the car and bring your child out too. “It’s best to bring the child out into fresh air so as to ease the choking,” Dr Kalele explains.
- Ask your child to try and cough the particle out while you thrust the chest or stomach to help. Rubbing his/her back with your palm will help as well.
- If the situation worsens or you feel panicky, stop a taxi/autorickshaw, and take your child to the nearest medical facility.
› Public transport is suggested because you should not leave the child unattended at such a time.
› Calling someone from the family to help in handling choking hazards will waste time unless they’re just a couple of minutes away.
“I wanted to be doubly sure so I took him to a doctor immediately,” says Smita talking about a similar incident with her five-year-old. As she rubbed his back, she stopped a taxi and rushed him to a clinic nearby. Medical help assured her that her child was fine. Besides, it eased her panic that could have worsened the situation. Important to remember while handling choking hazards, isn’t it?
4) Toys: Small but significant!
“It doesn’t matter how pretty or cute it is; a small toy is dangerous!”
Savita, a teacher-cum-counsellor at a Mumbai-based preschool, suggests keeping small objects at bay–even if there’s no visible threat from them. Research suggests that the maximum number of choking hazards in children is due to swallowing small food particles, objects, or toys. Some of these are coins, buttons (even on soft toys!), board game dice, chess pieces, carrom disks, and so on.
- “In case your child has swallowed a small object, but has not choked on it, instead of panicking, feed him/her pulpy bananas immediately,” says Dr Kalele. Then, visit a doctor!
- In case the small object has caused choking, use the thrusting method to cough it out. Patting between the shoulders at the back also helps.
- If it’s still stuck, let the child open his/mouth and check if the object is visible. If it is, more thrusts will work; if not, rush to a doctor immediately.
“Sometimes a visible object can also be pulled out from the trachea, but the parent has to be utterly careful and slow,” suggests Dr Kalele (however, it’s not recommended)
Buy a choke tester or make one at home. This is nothing but a cylindrical hollow measuring anywhere between 1-2.5 inches in width. Measure small objects using this cylinder and you will know if they fall under the threat category or not. If they do, keep them away!
5) Chewed or choked?
“We may not realise that we are offering choking threats to eat.” Dr Ekta is a periodontist and she believes that sometimes parents offer food that is bound to choke the trachea. How’s that possible?
- When children are teething, many of us offer hard raw carrots, or beetroot for their ‘teething-itch.’ Dr Ekta says that sharp front teeth can chip of pieces of these hard veggies while the molars are still not ready to chew them. This leads to food getting stuck in the trachea. Even if it doesn’t cause immediate choking, it can cause some amount of bruise or infection.
- “Best is to let them chew under your constant supervision,” Dr Ekta’s advises.
- Hard candy, grapes, berries, toasted bread and popcorn are a few other things that can cause a choke. We can ensure that we are vigilant when we offer such food to our children. If that’s not possible, look for snack options that don’t pose a choking threat.
- Milk powder, chocolate powder, and other milk additives in powder form should not be offered to children. They were made to be consumed as liquids and that’s what you should make your kid do!
- Cut grapes into halves or quarters for your child to eat.
- Avoid plain popcorn and offer buttered popcorn to your child. Even then, be vigilant and don’t let him/her eat it alone in one corner.
- In case choking occurs, pat between the shoulder blades on your child’s back. If the choke loosens, rub the back smoothly till the child recovers.
- In case there is no recovery, try the abdomen thrusts by holding the child from behind and immediately call for help. Never underestimate the importance of assistance during these times.
As mentioned before, after any episode of choking, even if minor, visit a doctor for an internal examination. Better be safe than sorry!
6) What is CPR?
In certain cases, a child may choke to such an extent that he/she may faint and become unconscious. In such a dire scenario, the only first aid that will help is CPR or Cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
- As the name suggests, CPR is a medical procedure to resuscitate or revive cardio (heart) and pulmonary (lung) functions during emergencies, especially choking or drowning. It can be done manually through the mouth or by using hand compressions. In simple terms, the person giving CPR is trying to aid the respiration of a person since he/she is unable to breathe properly on his/her own.
- CPR has been historically proven to be extremely effective to revive children during choking hazards.
- CPR on children can and should be done by parents in case an emergency situation arises. However, CPR cannot be done without prior and professional training.
- Basic CPR courses are offered by most medical facilities like hospitals and NGOs working towards medical help. Parents should enrol for at least one basic course to equip themselves to handle choking hazards in kids without panicking.
- Here’s a book that Dr Kalele suggests, Infant, Child & Adult CPR & Choking First Aid by Safety Magnets. The book gives a step-by-step procedure on infant/child CPR and methods to helps children when choking.
Children are curious! Even the most vigilant parent might miss a quick pick-it-up-and-put-it-in-your-mouth act by the smarty pants at home. Hence, parents should always be mentally prepared in handling choking hazards and facing medical emergencies with children. Such mental preparedness is the best way to reduce panic in an actual time of need. Agreed?
Don’t forget to comment below! Share your suggestions on handling choking hazards in kids.