Dealing with a choking infant or child can be a distressing and traumatic experience for the parent or carer. However, in order to administer effective first aid you must try and remain calm and act promptly in order to stop the situation escalating. An infant or child who is choking will have either a partial or complete obstruction of the airway. The severity of the blockage will determine the level of difficulty in breathing.
Choking is the third most common cause of infant death in the UK, after road traffic accidents and house fires — killing an average of 24 under-fives a year in England and Wales.
Yet half the population doesn’t know what to do if someone chokes. This is more worrying when you realise that when it does happen, you must act quickly — you have three to four minutes before death can occur.
Research has shown that if someone was choking, only half would intervene with back blows — the correct procedure.
‘Worryingly one in ten would stick their fingers down his or her throat, which could push the obstruction further down.
‘It’s really important that everyone learns first aid so that they have the knowledge to deal with an emergency situation.’
This knowledge is crucial. Gail Herman, a doctor at The Children’s Trust, says that as a rule, the younger the child, the less well they will recover from any brain damage.
She says: ‘If you are five, you’ve got a lot of learning already embedded. But if you are one or two, then your prognosis is likely to be worse.’
About half of all choking accidents in young children involve food — most commonly sweets and fish bones. The number of incidents involving toys is also rising, with thousands of under-threes choking on small parts from older kids’ toys.
‘Remember that young children learn about the world around them by putting things in their mouth, but their airways are narrow,’ says Sheila Merrill, public health adviser for the Royal Society for the Protection of Accidents.
She says to stay with young children while they are eating, cut vegetables into small strips, check for bones, refuse to give them sweets and nuts, and only give your child appropriate toys.