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Choking - A life threatening emergency

  • By Suman Singh

At the back of the throat is located a cartilage called epiglottis. This acts as a cover to the windpipe when we swallow, but it could happen that once in a while the epiglottis does not close fast and then we choke, as bits of food or object may go down the windpipe. Kids who cough and who are able to breathe and talk will be fine in a few seconds, as it means the air passage has not completely blocked. It should be considered an emergency if the object gets into the windpipe and completely blocks the air passage. This can block the airflow to the lungs and oxygen supply to the brain. Stay with the child, and if you see any of the following signs, then it is an emergency and the child needs to be taken to the hospital immediately.

The child will need to be taken to the hospital immediately if you think your child has swallowed an object and is now;

  1. Unable to breathe and appears frightened.
  2. Gasping, wheezing, gagging; has a lasting cough and has difficulty in breathing.
  3. Can't talk, cry, or make noise, or is turning blue or limp.
  4. Touching or grabbing the throat or is waving the arms.
  5. Is unconscious or has just recovered after being unconscious for a while.

If you know how to give abdominal thrusts, then begin immediately; if not, then either rush the child to the hospital or call medical emergency providers.

The child will need to be seen by a doctor even if the child seems to have recovered after a bad coughing bout.

Majority of choking-related incidents among children less than 4 years old are associated with food, coins, and toys.

How to prevent choking:

Children who are less than three years old can’t chew very well, so they swallow most objects whole. They also have small passageways for air and objects can get lodged inside, so make sure that the food you give your infant is not such that it blocks the passageways.

Don’t give them foods like grapes, nuts, raw carrots, raisins, toffees, pieces of meat or cheese. At mealtimes, mince the food well before feeding them or give it to them in very small bite sizes so that they can chew it. Cook vegetables well and cut up meats into tiny pieces. While eating, don’t allow the kids to laugh or talk with food in their mouth. Never reach into the mouth to bring out the object as this could push it further down. Don’t pat the child on the back either.

Buy toys according to the recommended age-appropriate toys, as some toys have small parts that can cause choking if any of them separate from the toy. Anything that is smaller than a lemon can block the air passage so make sure that children do not get hold of coins, beads, paper, batteries, etc. Make sure there is nothing small on the floor where infants play or crawl under, like beds and other furniture.