What to do if your child begins to choke

Entrance to East Tennessee Children's Hospital

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Few sounds are scarier than a child who is choking. It can be life-threatening, so it’s important to know what to do if you are caring for a child who chokes on something.

Dr. Ryan Redman, ER director at Children’s Hospital, says children under the age of 4 are at most risk because toddlers and babies put everything in their mouths and their windpipe is much smaller than that of an adult. But, the truth is choking can happen at any age. Food is the biggest culprit- things like hot dogs, poorly chewed pieces of meat, hard candies, grapes and raw carrots. But coins, balloons and small toys, holiday decorations all pose a choking risk.

It’s incredibly easy it to block oxygen during a choking event.  When the brain does not receive oxygen for more than four minutes permanent brain damage and death can result.

Follow the following steps to ensure your child stays safe:

  • Call 911 immediately if child can’t breathe
  • Heimlich Maneuver (position yourself behind child and wrap arms around his waist. Place thumb side of your fist on the middle of abdomen, press inward and up to dislodge item)
  • Tongue-Jaw Lift (If child is unconscious, lower to the floor on child’s back and try using the tongue-jaw lift. Place thumb over tongue and fingers wrapped around lower jaw which draws the tongue away from back of throat. Try to clear airway)
  • CPR (to be used only when a youngster has no pulse, indicating that his heart has stopped beating)

Prevention is key: make sure certain foods and small items are kept away from young children. Have children sit down to eat and chew food properly. Never allow children to run or play with anything in their mouths.

For more information, follow the links below:

Responding to a Choking Emergency

First Aid: Choking

Prevent Choking

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