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A Guide to Choking in Children

Having a child choke on an object or piece of food is a fear for all parents and caregivers.

Infants and toddlers naturally put objects in their mouths as a way of learning and exploring new things. They are more prone to choking on food as they are still developing their biting, chewing, and swallowing skills. They also have small air and food passages, which puts them at greater risk of blockages.

So, what can you do about it? Especially in a childcare centre when there are so many children in the same space at once.

In this update, we look at common causes of choking, how to reduce the risk, and what to do when a child starts to choke.
 
What Is Choking?
Choking occurs when something gets lodged in the airway, making a person unable to breathe. The airway may be partially blocked, which the body naturally tries to remedy by coughing. This is helpful to alert you of the hoking incident.
However, if the airway is totally blocked, no air can get through at all and the individual will not be able to cough to get it out. These incidences are especially dangerous and can lead to brain damage or death.
That is why it is imperative to be vigilant when it comes to choking hazards in your Centre.
 
Common Causes
Choking in children is often caused by:
Placing small toys or objects in their mouths that get lodged in their airway (e.g. button batteries, coins, magnets)
Small, hard foods that are difficult for young children to chew, such as carrot or apple
Soft, compressible food that has got stuck in the throat, such as meat
Small, round foods, such as lollies or grapes
Thick pastes that could cover an airway, such as peanut butter
Running or moving around with food or objects in their mouths that then get lodged in the throat
 
The most common cause of choking is food. Safety regulations around choking have recently been under scrutiny in New Zealand. After choking on a piece of apple at day-care in 2016, a 22-month-old child was left with severe cerebral palsy. His brain was starved of oxygen for 30 minutes while he was in cardiac arrest, leaving him with brain damage. This has prompted many to call for choking prevention guidelines to be made into law.
 
Prevention
To reduce the risk of choking, parents and caregivers should:
Keep small items that could be potential choking hazards out of reach
Supervise children while they eat
Ensure children sit down while they eat
Only give food that matches their chewing and swallowing ability (ask for professional advice if you aren’t sure)
Avoid high-risk foods (like those described above), or ensure they are cut smaller or grated
Learn choking specific first aid and CPR
 
In An Emergency
Even when all precautions are taken, a child could still suffer from a choking incident. If a child is partially choking and can still talk and cough, stay calm and encourage them to cough to dislodge the object.
If the airway is completely blocked and the child cannot speak or cough or is turning blue, you should:
Call 111
The Heimlich Manoeuvre may be performed if you are trained to do so safely. This must be done properly to avoid harming a child
Seek further medical assistance if a child continues to have problems breathing or swallowing
 
Choking is just one of the major hazards you should be mindful of at your childcare centre. There are many others to consider.




 

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