Children are naturally inquisitive and get to know the world by using their senses – including touch and taste. It may be part of the learning process to put things in their mouths but the risk of choking is high in young children and babies whose airwaves are narrower and who have not yet developed adult teeth.
So what is choking and how can you tell if a child is genuinely choking? Choking is defined as a blockage of the airway by a foreign body or fluid, such as blood or vomit, preventing passage of air to the lungs. You can tell a child is choking if they have difficulty speaking and breathing, their lips or skin are blue or they are gasping and signalling towards their throat.
What is most likely to cause choking?
Children are at most risk of choking when they are tired, crying or running around. Try to feed young children and babies before they get too tired to concentrate on eating properly. If your child is crying, don’t try to give him any food – even a sweet to calm him down is a bad idea. Mealtimes can be stressful, especially if your child does not want to eat certain foods.
Calm your child down and ensure sobs have subsided before allowing them to eat. Children can’t be stopped from dashing around or playing in the house – or outside, so make it a family rule that children sit down every time they eat.
- Reconstituted meat such as hotdogs or burgers can be difficult for young children to swallow.
- Raw vegetables can be a choking hazard, so cutting them into small strips is always a good policy.
- Fruits with skins such as grapes, plums and apples be difficult for babies and toddlers to chew, cut them into small pieces and consider peeling them.
- Chewing gum don’t give this to children.
- Sweets such as hard or chewy toffee and boiled sweets are a definite no-go area for children under five and should be avoided by older children too – they’re bad for the teeth anyway.
- Fishbones – ask your fishmonger to fillet the fish and tell them it’s for a child. Check ready packaged fish for bones before and after cooking, and ask older children to be on the alert while eating fish.
- Any small objects such as coins, which are the most common cause of choking in the under fives, toy parts, marbles, and pen tops can become lodged in a child’s throat so keep them out of reach.
- Deflated or uninflated balloons can take the shape of a child’s windpipe or airway, so supervise children closely.
- Other substances such as plastic wrappings may also pose a hazard.
What can I do?
If you think your child is choking, ask them to talk. If they can talk, there is some air getting through. If a child can only signal or looks in distress, Immediate First Aid Action Is Necessary. There are some excellent first aid resources dealing with choking and it’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with some basic techniques or take a first aid course.
To childproof your house against choking hazards, get down to baby level and look for dangerous items; a crawling child will find all sorts of tasty looking items, which you might not have spotted up there. Remember to check under furniture and between cushions. Train older children to keep anything with small parts out of reach and always follow age recommendations on packaging.
- Nearly 5,000 children in the UK are taken to hospital every year after choking, over half the children treated are under five years old and most of these accidents occur at home.
- Toys account for only a small proportion of choking cases. Non-food choking accidents are most often caused by coins in children age 3 and under.
- Almost half of all choking accidents in young children involve food – sweets and fishbones are the most common causes.
- Asphyxia (choking, strangulation and suffocation) is the third most common cause of death in UK children.