Knowing what to do when a child is choking could save their life

This is according to Dr Hennie Smit, who recently attended to two-year-old Reuben Botha who was rushed to the emergency department at Netcare Krugersdorp Hospital after an object became lodged in his throat.

“Fortunately for Reuben we were able to remove the object. He was then intubated and after two days he was discharged without having suffered any complications as a result of the choking.

“Witnessing a child choking can be very distressing, causing many parents or caregivers to panic and in some instances completely freeze up if they don’t know what to do. That is why it is always a good idea to familiarise yourself with what actions to take should you be present during a choking incident.”

Act calmly and quickly

When advising on what to do when a young child is choking, David Stanton, Head: Clinical Leadership at Netcare 911, emphasises the importance of keeping calm and acting quickly.

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“Speed is of the essence in any choking situation. Being able to dislodge a blockage quickly greatly minimises the risk of further complications. However, never try to remove a foreign object unless you can actually see it, as you can run the risk of pushing it further into the airway.

“Depending on their age, the child may not be able to communicate that they are choking. Therefore, as soon as you notice a baby or younger child is unable to cry, cough or talk, it is likely that something is blocking their airway. They may even turn bright red or blue. It is important to keep calm and think rationally about what you will need to do to best assist the child,” he says.

“Remember, it is essential that emergency medical services are summoned as soon as possible when someone is choking because if these steps do not work, choking can very quickly result in the person losing consciousness and suffocating. The sooner paramedics are called, the sooner they will arrive on scene and the greater the chance of a positive outcome,” notes Stanton.

What to do if a child is choking:

Firstly, try to encourage them to cough. Often the child will not try this, and forceful coughing may successfully expel the object.

If this doesn’t work, do the Heimlich manoeuvre:

  • Stand or kneel behind the child.
  • Wrap your arms around them, and make a fist with one hand. Place your fist against the stomach, just above the belly button.
  • Place your other hand over your fist. Position your body up against the child.
  • Give a series of five hard forceful squeezes. You are trying to force the air out of the child, in an attempt to dislodge the object.
  • Check in the mouth to see if you can see the object. If you can see it, pull it out.
  • If the thrusts don’t work, then do a series of back blows:
    • Have the child positioned with the head as low as possible.
    • Hit the child forcefully between the shoulder blades. Repeat this five times.
    • Keep repeating Heimlich thrusts and back blows until the object is released or check if you can see the object to pull it out.

What to do if a baby is choking

  • Lay the infant face down on your arm, with the head lower than the rest of the body.
  • Give five hard slaps on the baby’s back. You should do this with the intention of shaking the object loose, so don’t be too gentle.
  • If the object doesn’t come out, turn the baby on his/her back. While supporting the entire baby, place two fingers in the middle of the chest. Give up to five hard chest thrusts.
  • Keep repeating black slaps and chest thrusts until the object comes out, or keep checking in the mouth to see if you can see the object. If you can see it, pull it out.
  • If the object does not come out in the first few seconds, Stanton says it is essential to call for professional help.

“If at any time, the baby or child becomes unresponsive, place them gently on the floor. Begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). When giving breaths, take a moment to look in the mouth and see if you can see the object, and remove it if possible. You will need to continue CPR until help arrives,” he concludes.

While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.