When babies start crawling or eating solid foods, it’s crucial for parents to be aware of the risks and dangers associated with choking. Children under the age of 5, especially older infants, are particularly susceptible to choking on small objects and food.
Choking happens when food or tiny objects become lodged in the throat, blocking the airway. This blockage prevents oxygen from reaching the lungs and brain. If the brain goes without oxygen for more than 4 minutes, it can result in brain damage or even death.
Unfortunately, choking incidents claim the lives of many children every year, and the majority of these tragic cases involve children under the age of 5. In the U.S., one child dies in a choking incident every five days.
Choking: A Nightmare for Parents
The American Academy of Pediatrics believes that parents can prevent choking. The Academy provides essential choking prevention and first aid guidance for parents and caregivers of infants and children. The Mayo Clinic reports that choking is a frequent cause of injury and even death in young children, primarily due to their small airways being easily blocked.
Babies and young children naturally explore their surroundings using various methods, often including putting objects in their mouths. However, this behavior can lead to a choking episode if an object becomes lodged and obstructs the airway.
When choking, the child’s air supply is cut off, resulting in catastrophic, fatal consequences in as little as 4 minutes. Even if only a part of the airway is blocked, it can still prevent air from reaching the lungs.
The problem with infants and young children is that they can’t yet properly chew their food. This is why certain types of foods are deemed choking hazards.
First Aid for a Choking Child
Common culprits for choking incidents include balloons, balls, marbles, and small toy parts. These items are responsible for causing the most choking-related deaths. When dealing with a choking child, immediate action is crucial. Here are some essential first-aid tips to help a choking child:
- Assess the situation: Determine if the child is experiencing a mild or severe choking episode. If they can cough, speak, or breathe, encourage them to continue coughing to try to dislodge the object. However, if they are unable to cough or breathe, the situation is severe, and immediate intervention is necessary.
- Perform back blows and chest thrusts: For infants under 1 year old, support their head and neck and place them face down on your forearm. Deliver firm back blows between the shoulder blades using the heel of your hand. For children over 1 year old, stand or kneel behind them and provide sharp back blows between the shoulder blades.
- Call for emergency assistance: If the child continues to choke and is unable to breathe, speak, or cough, call emergency services or ask someone nearby to call for help.
CPR Guidelines for Choking Infants
The correct response for a choking child depends on the degree of airway obstruction, whether the person is responsive or not, and the age of the child. For children under 1 year old, there are specific CPR guidelines at play, such as:
- Determining whether the infant is responsive or not.
- Calling 911 and starting CPR immediately.
- Supporting the head and the neck: Put the infant face-down on your forearm (place them on your lap or thigh)
- Use the heel of your palm to give back blows (focus on the area between the infant’s shoulder blades).
- If the back blows do not work, start thrusting their chest. Turn the infant with their face up while supporting their head and neck. Use two of your fingers and position them parallel to the nipple line of your infant. Press down around 1.5 inches and deliver up to 5 chest thrusts.
Alternate between back blows and chest thrusts until the airway is no longer obstructed. Ensure the infant can breathe again.
CPR Guidelines for Choking Children
When performing CPR on a child, follow these guidelines:
- Check responsiveness: Gently tap the child and shout, “Are you okay?” to determine if they are responsive. If they don’t respond and are not breathing or only gasping, it indicates a need for CPR.
- Call 911: If you are alone, perform CPR for about two minutes before calling emergency services. If someone else is present, ask them to call for help immediately.
- Perform chest compressions: Place the child on a firm surface. For a child aged 1 to puberty, use the heel of one hand to deliver chest compressions at a rate of about 100 to 120 compressions per minute. Depress the chest about 2 inches (5 centimeters) with each compression.
- Give rescue breaths: After 30 compressions, open the child’s airway by tilting their head back and lifting their chin. Pinch the child’s nose shut and create a seal by placing your mouth over their mouth. Deliver two rescue breaths, each lasting about one second, while watching for their chest to rise.
- Continue CPR: Alternate between 30 chest compressions and two rescue breaths until help arrives or the child starts breathing on their own.
It’s important to note that these guidelines provide a general overview of child CPR. However, whether you’re in Cleveland, New York, Missouri, or anywhere else in the U.S., it is highly recommended to receive formal CPR training and certification to learn the correct techniques and stay updated on any changes in guidelines.
When to Start CPR
If you are unsure whether the child requires CPR, it is always better to err on the side of caution and initiate CPR while waiting for emergency medical services to arrive. Early intervention can significantly improve the chances of survival and minimize potential complications.
Here are the signs that indicate a need for CPR in a child:
- Unresponsiveness: The child does not respond when tapped on the shoulder or shouted at.
- Absence of normal breathing: The child is not breathing or only gasping. Gasping is not considered normal breathing and is a sign of a medical emergency.
Precautions to Prevent Children Choking
Small children are the most exposed to choking risks, especially involving food and small items such as buttons or beads. As parents, you can never be too cautious when it comes to children’s safety. Thankfully, there are precautions you can take to minimize the risk of choking.
- Solid foods are best cooked, mashed, or grated.
- Peanuts are a well-known choking hazard.
- Meat should be cut into small, manageable pieces.
- Cut food lengthwise to make it narrower.
- Stay close to your child while they are eating, and be observant.
- If your child can understand you, explain the importance of eating food quietly and while sitting down.
- Don’t try to feed them if they are laughing or crying.
Besides food, there are other choking hazards to be aware of, such as:
- Objects smaller than a ping-pong ball (buttons, coins, beads, and marbles). Remove all of these choking hazards from the surroundings.
- Keep balloons further away from children. If a balloon bursts, pieces of it can easily end up in a child’s throat.
- Keep toys with small parts away from children, especially those intended for older children.
- Screws, pen caps, bottle caps, batteries, or small magnets can pose a choking risk, especially for young children who have a tendency to put objects in their mouths.
Key Takeaway: Choking Hazards and CPR
Whether you’re a parent in Cleveland, Los Angeles, or St.Petersburg, you probably take the same precautionary measures to ensure your child’s safety. When it comes to the safety of your children, choking is a top hazard that’s a real nightmare for parents, regardless of the age of their child.
If a child is choking and struggling for air, CPR is one of the methods to employ. If your child is choking and has become unresponsive, that’s your cue to start CPR. On the other hand, if your child is responsive and is coughing, encourage them to keep on coughing and observe how they behave.
Proper training in first aid and CPR will provide you with the skills and confidence to perform the Heimlich maneuver effectively and safely, in addition to recognizing choking hazards and acting accordingly in such a scenario.