NewsLocal News


Choking is the fourth leading cause of unintentional injury death 

Posted at 8:18 AM, Apr 22, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-22 10:52:56-04

Kids will put anything and everything in their mouth. Most children and parents learn that the hard way.

Every year in the U.S., more than 80,000 kids swallow things that aren’t food.

And many will end up in the emergency room.

About 100 kids a day are rushed to U.S. emergency rooms after accidentally swallowing a toy piece, battery, magnet or other foreign objects.

“The children that are most at risk are the ones between the ages of 6 months to 4 years,” said Corpus Christi Medical Center ER Kim Onufrak. “Studies show that ages between 1 and 2, those are at increased risk; their airways are smaller, they don’t have the chewing capability so they are more easily liable to choke and swallow objects.”

Most children have no symptoms after swallowing an object, and the object will not cause any problems.

“You can bring your child to the ER if some of the signs are they have abdominal pain, or if they accidentally ingested something into the airway, you will hear coughing and wheezing. Those are all signs you need to watch for,” said Onufrak.

Choking is a common cause of injury and is the fourth leading cause of unintentional injury death in young children, primarily because their small airways are easily obstructed.

“Sometimes you can hear choking, but other times, it is silent,” Onufrak said. “You want to make sure you are watching your kid if they are grabbing their throat; that is usually the universal sign that they are choking.

“You want to pat them on the back hard, you want to try to do the Heimlich Maneuver, which are strong abdominal thrusts.  If the child becomes unconscious, you definitely want to call 911, and you want to get your child to the ER. Those are all emergency conditions.”

The vast majority of kids will be fine. The swallowed object will drop into their stomach, wind through their intestine and “pass” a few days later without incident.  But some cases are more serious, and some can be deadly.

It’s important to know when swallowing a foreign object is an emergency situation that warrants a call to 9-1-1 or a trip straight to the emergency room.

Treatment will depend on the type of object and where it’s located.

A study published on April 12, 2019, in the Journal of Pediatrics found a sharp increase in emergency room visits involving swallowed objects by kids under age 6.

There are more than 3 million US cases per year.

According to Injury Facts 2017, choking is the fourth leading cause of unintentional injury death.

Choking occurs when a foreign object lodges in the throat or windpipe, blocking the flow of air. In adults, a piece of food often is the culprit. Young children often swallow small objects. Because choking cuts off oxygen to the brain, give first aid as quickly as possible.

A choking person’s airway may be blocked so that not enough oxygen reaches the lungs. Without oxygen, brain damage can occur in as little as 4 to 6 minutes. Rapid first aid for choking can save a person’s life.

Are you choking?” is the important question to ask the conscious victim. This at least gives the victim who is unable to speak the opportunity to respond by nodding!

The universal sign for choking is hands clutched to the throat. If the person doesn’t give the signal, look for these indications:

  • Inability to talk
  • Difficulty breathing or noisy breathing
  • Squeaky sounds when trying to breathe
  • Cough, which may either be weak or forceful
  • Skin, lips and nails turning blue or dusky
  • Skin that is flushed, then turns pale or bluish in color
  • Loss of consciousness

If the person is able to cough forcefully, the person should keep coughing. If the person is choking and can’t talk, cry or laugh forcefully.

The American Red Cross recommends a “five-and-five” approach to delivering first aid:

Give 5 back blows. Stand to the side and just behind a choking adult. For a child, kneel down behind. Place one arm across the person’s chest for support.

Bend the person over at the waist so that the upper body is parallel with the ground. Deliver five separate back blows between the person’s shoulder blades with the heel of your hand.

Give 5 abdominal thrusts. Perform five abdominal thrusts (also known as the Heimlich maneuver). Alternate between 5 blows and 5 thrusts until the blockage is dislodged.

The American Heart Association doesn’t teach the back blow technique, only the abdominal thrust procedures. It’s OK not to use back blows if you haven’t learned the technique. Both approaches are acceptable.

To perform abdominal thrusts (Heimlich maneuver) on someone else:

  • Stand behind the person. Place one foot slightly in front of the other for balance. Wrap your arms around the waist.
  • Tip the person forward slightly. If a child is choking, kneel down behind the child.
  • Make a fist with one hand. Position it slightly above the person’s navel.
  • Grasp the fist with the other hand. Press hard into the abdomen with a quick, upward thrust — as if trying to lift the person up.
  • Perform between six and 10 abdominal thrusts until the blockage is dislodged.

If the person becomes unconscious, perform standard cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) with chest compressions and rescue breaths.

After the object is successfully dislodged, the person should see a doctor because complications can arise. In the days following a choking episode, contact a doctor right away if the person develops:

  • A cough that does not go away.
  • Anyone with a persistent cough, difficulty swallowing, or with the sensation of an object being still stuck in the throat should see a doctor.

Risk factors

Possible risk factors include:

  • Old age
  • Poor dentition
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Chronic disease
  • Sedation
  • Eating risky foods

Why are babies vulnerable to choking?

Choking is a common cause of injury and death in young children, primarily because their small airways are easily obstructed.

To prevent choking in children, keep small objects out of reach, cut food into small pieces and don’t let them have hard candy. Young children should be supervised while eating and playing.