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Choking, or airway obstruction, kills around 800 children per year under the age of 14. It hospitalizes another 16,000. Here is what you need to know to help a choking victim and reduce the risk:

If your child is choking and can cough or talk…

  • If your child is choking, and they are coughing or talking, do not do anything. If they are able to do either, their airway is not completely blocked. Stand by the child, comfort him or her, and encourage them to keep coughing to get the item out. Trying to perform the Heimlich maneuver only works when the airway is either completely or almost completely obstructed. You could actually lodge the item in their throat more by performing the Heimlich maneuver when not needed, thus creating a more serious situation.

If your child is choking and unable to cough…

In this situation, the child’s airway is obstructed and he or she needs immediate first aid.

First-aid for a choking infant: Place the child over your forearm, angle them slightly down, and deliver 5 back blows. Don’t be afraid to give a little force to them. Then turn the child over and give 5 chest thrusts. These are performed by pushing down with two fingers in between the child’s nipples. Do not perform a finger sweep on an infant unless you can see the object.

Performing the Heimlich Maneuver on a child

For children over 1 year of age, perform the Heimlich maneuver by standing directly behind them, making a fist with one hand and placing it over their navel or belly button. Put the other hand on top of your fist and give quick, upward thrusts into your child’s abdomen until the object is dislodged.

Simple things to reduce choking threats…

  • Slice hot dogs down the middle lengthwise before serving them to children.

  • Avoid serving children fruit with pits until they are old enough to be trusted with it.

  • Avoid giving infants and toddlers foods like popcorn, peanuts, hard candy, or even most soft candies such as skittles, gumdrops, etc.

  • Always monitor children around balloons, even older kids. Balloons are dangerous because they are something that children frequently put in their mouth, and if they end up choking on one, balloons are the most dangerous thing to choke on. Their smooth surface makes them hard to remove, and their flexibility means they can act just like a diaphragm, expanding with a child’s breath without actually letting any air in.

  • Teach children not to talk with their mouths full. This increases chances of choking.

  • Watch these other chokers: Beads, buttons, coins, marbles, bouncy balls, jawbreakers.

  • Never let children eat candy or suck on anything while lying down. This puts the throat at a perfect angle for the item to be accidentally swallowed and get lodged in the child’s throat.

  • When serving grapes to younger children, slice the grapes lengthwise down the middle to make them a non-choking hazard.

  • Do not give children candy while they are playing or engaging in other physical activities.

  • Keep all bags, plastic wrap, and similar plastics out of the reach of young children. Teach older children about the dangers of placing such items over their head or mouth.

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