Avoiding child choking hazards during holiday season

Published: Nov. 12, 2019 at 4:53 AM EST
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With extra decorations around homes during the holidays, Norton Children’s Prevention & Wellness is reminding parents and guardians to watch for potential choking hazards.

"A child can begin choking in an instant," Sharon Rengers, R.N. and manager of Norton Children’s Prevention & Wellness, said. "While trying to prevent choking is important, it’s also critical that parents know what to do if a child starts to choke."

In addition to candy and toys, holiday decorations can become additional choking hazards in the home.

Choking occurs when a child consumes something blocks the airway, keeping air from getting in and out of their lungs. While a cough may dislodge the item, Norton reminds caretakers that the situation may be life-threatening. “If the brain goes without oxygen for more than four minutes, brain damage or death can occur,” Norton explained.

Here are a few tips from Norton Children’s Prevention & Wellness to help prevent choking:

Prepare and cut food into small, bite-sized pieces for young children. Cut grapes into quarters, cut hot dogs the long way and then into pieces (also removing the skin), and cook vegetables instead of serving raw.

Teach children to chew their food completely before swallowing.

Supervise mealtime for young children. Many choking cases occur when older brothers or sisters offer unsafe food to a younger child.

Insist that children sit while they eat. They should never play, walk, or run with food in their mouths.

When purchasing toys, look for sturdy construction and follow age recommendations. For children under age 3, avoid toys with small parts. A toy is too small if it passes easily through an empty cardboard toilet-paper tube.

Remind older children to store their toys and games with small parts out of reach of younger siblings.

Examine toys regularly for damaged or broken parts.

If you have a child who is learning to walk or crawl, get down on the floor often to check for objects that could be put into the mouth and cause choking.

If a child becomes unconscious, parents and guardians are advised to have someone call 911 immediately. If you are alone and efforts to clear the obstruction are unsuccessful after two minutes, call 911 for emergency help, according to Norton; continue rescue efforts under the direction of 911 personnel until help arrives.

If the child can cough, cry, speak or breathe, Norton said that nothing needs to be done. However, if a child is conscious but cannot cough, cry, speak or breathe, these emergency first-aid steps for choking are recommended.

Heimlich maneuver for toddler (child over 1): abdominal thrusts

Stand behind the child with your fists clasped between the navel and below the bottom of the breastbone.

Give quick thrusts inward and upward.

Repeat until the airway is clear or the child becomes unconscious.

First aid for a choking baby or infant: back slaps

Hold the infant face down on your forearm. Support the infant’s head and jaw with your hand.

Give five back slaps with the heel of one hand between the shoulder blades.

If the object does not come out after five back slaps, turn the infant over onto his or her back, supporting the head.

Give five chest thrusts using two fingers of your other hand to push on the breastbone between the nipples. Push down and then let go.

Repeat, giving five back slaps and chest thrusts until the infant can breathe, cough or cry, OR until he or she stops responding.

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