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Choking Is An All Too Real Hazard — Here's How To Be Prepared

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When my son was two years old, he choked on a blackberry right in front of my face. I saw him suddenly gasping for air and looking at me in terror. It was the most terrifying minute of my life. And to this day, one of my greatest fears is that one of my children will choke to death. But the only thing that I can do to combat that fear is to learn all I need to know about choking.

The day my child choked, I froze with panic in the moment. My husband was holding him in his arms, and the moment he realized what was happening, he flipped our son over and landed a few forceful blows to his back. They didn’t work. He flipped him back up and stuck his finger down our little one’s throat and pulled the blackberry right out. And I have never been so happy to hear my kid cry.

Choking Injury And Deaths

Seeing how easily choking can happen freaked me out quite a bit, and I don’t know that I have ever fully recovered from that incident. According to the Department of Health, choking is the fourth leading cause of unintentional death in children under age five. And I can’t tell you how grateful I am that our story didn’t have a tragic ending.

Not to completely freak you out but, the Department of Health also states that children under the age of five are at the most significant risk for choking injury and death. A young child’s trachea (aka windpipe) is about the size of a drinking straw in diameter. Can you imagine a blackberry caught in that small an area?

But as I learned for myself, freaking out won’t reduce the risk of choking. However, educating yourself on the things you need to know about choking will.

Choking Hazards

It’s not a surprise that the most common cause of nonfatal choking in children is food. Over 12,000 children a year are taken to a hospital emergency room for food-choking injuries. Well-known choking hazards are round foods like whole grapes, cherry tomatoes, and hotdogs. In addition, parents need to keep their eyes on snack foods like popcorn, nuts, and all kinds of candy.

But you should also be aware of food consistency, size, and shape. Foods that clump, like peanut butter, are prone to cause choking. And pay attention to any foods that are sticky, slippery, or dry and hard textured. Round foods or foods with shapes that could conform to the trachea’s shape and size can be a hazard. Foods like raw peas, cheese cubes, and ice can easily block a child’s windpipe and cause them to choke.

Other choking hazards are toys and household items. And every parent knows that young kids are notorious for picking up random things and putting them right in their mouth. We know to look out for objects labeled as potential choking hazards and things like coins, small balls, and button-shaped batteries. But you also have to look out for items like latex balloons, stuffing from a bean bag chair, and holiday decorations such as tinsel.

Other Groups At High Risk Of Choking

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Children aren’t the only ones at risk of choking. Many of us are caretakers for loved ones other than our children and it is important to be aware of the risk of choking in other groups. According to VeryWellHealth.com, the elderly, those with neurological disorders, and people with diseases that cause muscular degeneration, such as multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s Disease, are also at risk of choking. And many of the same choking hazards apply to them too.

Ways To Prevent Choking

This is not about scaring you half to death; I have been there, and it is not a good feeling. This is about providing you with the information you need to prevent possible choking incidents and help prepare you for when choking occurs.

Arthur Lih, founder and CEO of LifeVac, a life-saving device for choking emergencies, encourages a three-pronged approach to preventing and saving someone from choking: Be aware, be trained, and be prepared.

Be Aware

Awareness is the key to prevention. Knowing possible choking hazards like the ones previously mentioned, is the first step. It is also important to cut food into small pieces, model safe eating habits, and avoid eating too quickly. Be aware of other possible choking hazards such as household items and toys and properly supervise anyone at high risk of choking.

Also, know the signs of choking. Healthline.com points out that more often than not, the person choking will continuously cough until they expel whatever they are choking on. But in some cases, the person may not be able to speak, cough, make noise, or breathe because their air supply is cut off.

Be Trained

At this point, caretakers should contact emergency services. And it is really important that caretakers are familiar with life-saving techniques like CPR and the Heimlich maneuver in such an emergency. Because you never want to see a loved one struggle to breathe and be unable to help them. If you haven’t already participated in a training, American Red Cross provides classes across the country.

Be Prepared

Unfortunately, the Heimlich maneuver and CPR don’t work 100% of the time. It is a good idea to be prepared with a de-chocking to help you in these cases. If you plan on having one of these devices in your home, you should talk to your pediatrician about which brand to purchase, and the best practices for use.

I hope that you never have to experience a loved one choking — or anyone, for that matter. I share all of this not to scare anyone, but to prevent someone else from panicking and freezing as I did. So, see this as a push to gain awareness, get training, and be more prepared for choking emergencies.

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