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Choking on food and other objects

child; choking; choke; batteries;

Choking is a risk for babies and young children. It is important to take care that your home (and any other place where your young child will be) does not have small things around that they can put in their mouth. Food can also be a choking hazard. It is also a good idea to do a first aid course so you will feel confident to cope with any accident that could happen to your child.

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Why are young children at risk of choking?

Young children are at risk of choking because they:

  • put small objects into their mouths
  • do not have the back teeth needed to chew and grind lumps of food fully
  • are still learning to eat, chew and swallow
  • may run, play, laugh or cry while there is something in their mouth.

Gagging is different to choking. Gagging is a normal part of learning to eat chewable foods. It is a normal response and children recover quickly. Children should gag less as their chewing skills develop.

Young children are also at risk of choking on other objects because they put small objects into their mouths.

How to make eating safer

  • Do not give food or drink to children when they are running, playing, laughing or crying.
  • Always sit children down to eat.
  • Stay close and watch children while they eat.
  • Never force children to eat.
  • Encourage children to eat slowly and chew well.
  • Encourage children to feed themselves.

How to make food safer for young children

  • Foods with skins - sausages, hotdogs, frankfurts
    • Remove skins, cut lengthwise, and then into small pieces
  • Round foods - grapes and cherry tomatoes
    • Cut in half.
  • Foods with seeds, pips and stones - cherries, stone fruit, olives
    • Remove seeds, pips and stones and cut into small pieces.
  • Foods that are hard, crunchy or stringy - hard fruit and vegetables such as raw apple, carrot and celery
    • Grate, very finely slice, cook or mash.
  • Corn chips, popcorn, nuts, and hard or sticky lollies, very hard crackers that don't dissolve or break up easily.
    • Don't serve these.
  • Foods that are tough and chewy - meat with gristle and bone, tough meat
    • Remove fat, gristle and bone. Cut into small pieces.
    • Mince, shred or slow cook
  • Foods containing small bones - fish, chicken
    • Remove bones and cut into small pieces.

If a child has a chewing or swallowing problem, talk to a doctor or speech pathologist.

Preventing choking on other objects

  • Make sure small objects that could be inhaled (get into their windpipe) or swallowed are out of reach or thrown away.
  • Check for 'beans' from beanbags, coins, small batteries, small toys, broken off pieces of toys, pieces of foam etc. where your child could reach them. When you need to keep small batteries you could store them in a child-safe bottle that tablets had been stored in.

What to do if someone chokes

If the child is breathing, coughing or crying the child may be able to dislodge the food by coughing.

  • Check the mouth and remove any food or object you can see or feel.
  • Ask the child to cough and remove anything that comes out.
  • Reassure the child.
  • Stay with the child, and watch to see if she is breathing normally.
  • If, after the coughing settles down, there is any continued noisy breathing, or coughing, take the child to a hospital emergency department or see a doctor as soon as possible, as the object may have lodged in an airway.
  • If the child is able to breathe do not try to dislodge the object by hitting the child on the back or pushing on the stomach, because this may move the object into a more dangerous position and make the child stop breathing.
  • If the child is not breathing easily within a few minutes, call an ambulance (000 in Australia). Follow the operator's instructions.

If the child is conscious and having difficulty breathing

  • Check the mouth and remove any food or object you can see or feel.
  • Give up to 5 back blows
    • For a young child (under about 5 years old) place the child face down over your lap so that the head is lower than the chest. Older children and adults can be treated in a sitting or standing position.
    • Give up to 5 sharp blows on the back between the shoulder blades with the heel of your hand.
    • Check the mouth after each back blow and remove any food.
  • If this does not work - give up to 5 chest thrusts.
    • For a small child (under about 5 years old) place the child face up over your lap so that the head is lower than the chest. Older children and adults can be treated sitting or standing.
    • Give up to 5 chest thrusts on the lower half of the breast bone with 2 fingers for a baby under 12 months old or with the heel of your hand for an older child or adult. These are similar to chest compressions but sharper and delivered at a slower rate. Older children and adults may need you to do this with 2 hands.
  • If the airway is still blocked, continue alternating 5 back blows with 5 chest thrusts.

If the child is still having difficulty breathing call the ambulance service (000 in Australia) and follow their advice while waiting for help.

If the child is unconscious and not breathing

  • Call the ambulance service.
  • Start CPR (Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation) - as for any other non-breathing person, while waiting for help.

Flow chart

Flow chart for managing choking from "Preventing choking on food - children under 4 years of age", fact sheet.
PDF documentPreventing choking on food flow chart

Resources

Much of the content in this topics is in:

Women's and Children's Health Network Fact sheet - South Australia  

Kidsafe SA
http://www.kidsafesa.com.au/

Raising Children Network 
http://raisingchildren.net.au/ 

South Australian resources

Australia

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).

This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.

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