As young children explore the world, it is natural for them to put things in their mouth. Some objects are just the right shape and size to get stuck in their airway, putting them in serious peril. Choking can happen in an instant and is every parent’s nightmare. It is in fact the second cause of household death amongst toddlers between the ages of one and three. Here’s everything you need to know.
Signs that a child is choking
First, two common-sense tips: try keep choking hazards away from young children’s reach, and try to remain calm during emergencies.
Choking is unfortunately common amongst young children, and potentially very dangerous. It is sometimes wrongfully confused with coughing and gagging. These are the signs that a person is choking:
- Trouble breathing
- Weak and ineffective coughing
- Gasping, wheezing or making high-pitched sounds
- Seem anxious, agitated, or grab at their throat
- Inability to cry
- Bluish skin colour
If a child is gagging or coughing but can still breathe or talk, that means their airway is not completely blocked. In such cases, experts say it’s best to do nothing. As tempting as it may be to pat them on the back or try to remove the object by hand, that could make things worse and push the foreign object further down their windpipe. Instead, watch the child carefully and encourage them to continue coughing until they’re able to dislodge the object on their own, or until they start exhibiting the above-mentioned choking signs.
If a child is choking shout for help and have someone call 112 while you perform first aid CPR as described below. Ideally one person calls an ambulance and keeps the emergency services informed of progress while the other performs first aid. However, if you are alone, do not move away from the child to call for help until you have done 2 minutes of CPR.
Choking first aid for children aged 1 to 8
- Stand behind the child and wrap your arms around the child’s waist.
- Make a fist with one hand, thumb side in. Place your fist just below the chest and slightly above the navel.
- Grab your fist with the other hand.
- Press into the abdomen with a quick upward push.
- Repeat this inward and upward thrust until the foreign object comes out.
- Once the object comes out, take your child to the doctor. Only a doctor can determine whether a child is OK.
Choking first aid for infants aged under 1
- Place the baby face down on your forearm. Your arm should be resting on your thigh. With the heel of your other hand, give the child five quick, forceful blows between the shoulder blades.
- If this fails, turn the infant on her back so that the head is lower than the chest. Place two fingers in the centre middle of the breastbone, just below the nipples. Press inward rapidly five times. Continue this sequence of five back blows and five chest thrusts until the foreign object comes out or until the infant loses consciousness, in which case tell 112 emergency services immediately.
- Never put your fingers into the infant’s mouth unless you can see the object, as doing so may push the blockage farther into the airway.