Choking has got to be a parent’s worst nightmare, and it happens all too often, and most recently to a friend of a friend of mine. Her young toddler son sadly lost his life in hospital, having never recovered from choking on a small toy at home. After hearing the desperate news, we set about asking resident bloggers RoSPA what we can do to prevent these tragic accidents happening in our own homes. Alison Brinkworth, public health support officer at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), blogs about the everyday choking dangers around our homes.
It’s not too widely known that accidents are the main cause of preventable death in children under the age of five, and that the majority of accidents will happen in the home.
Choking is obviously a major cause of concern, both for parents and us as a preventative charity, so we want to make sure that those with young children are as clued up as possible when it comes to hazards around the home.
Even if you try not to let the little ones out of your sight, we don’t have eyes in the back of our heads so please take a minute to read this blog and familiarise yourself with our advice, as there can be things around the home that you may not realise can be potentially deadly.
First of all, buy toys that are appropriate for your child’s age range. Young children are particularly at risk from choking because they examine the world around them by putting things into their mouths, so take note of the recommended age on the packaging as some toys have small parts that can detach and get stuck in the throat, nose or an ear.
Buy only from recognised outlets, follow the instructions and warnings provided, and check toys regularly for wear and tear, and either repair them or throw them away where necessary. Also check for loose hair and small parts, sharp edges and points.
Always supervise young children at play, and be particularly careful with toys for children under three. Be wary of young children playing with their older siblings’ toys or ones belonging to their friends.
If you are buying second hand, don’t buy any toy unless it has a CE mark on it, which means it complies with essential toy safety regulations. Also, check the structural integrity of the toy, as some may be broken inside.
Around Christmas, it is especially important that you do not let children play with tree lights, and remember even a burst balloon can be a choking hazard.
Button cell batteries have been highlighted over recent years as being a particular problem, and RoSPA has become aware of children swallowing the small batteries, which are often found in musical toy books, calculators, key fobs and many other electronic gadgets.
These batteries pose not only a choking risk, but can also poison children – they contain lithium, which reacts with saliva and can leak acid in only an hour after first entering their mouth.
Unfortunately, a child that swallows a battery can suffer terrible effects, including the acid burning a hole in their throat or stomach. It may even cause further damage to other internal organs within a few hours.
Those little, innocuous-looking plastic bags to place dirty nappies in are also a major concern, as RoSPA is aware of at least 14 babies in England and Wales that have suffocated or choked to death on this product.
Babies naturally grasp anything and put it in their mouths, so always keep nappy sacks, other plastic bags and wrapping away from babies and buy them on a roll if possible.
Along with toys, RoSPA is aware of children swallowing, inhaling or choking on food and other items, such as peanuts. In 2011-12, there were a total of 447 children aged 14 and under who were admitted to hospital for choking on food and other items in England.
Parents should ensure that peanuts are kept out of the reach of children under six.
What to do if the worst should happen
Most of the time, an object which disappears into a child’s mouth will be swallowed and make its way through the body naturally. Coughing and breathing difficulties are signs that the object may have gone into the windpipe. This is serious and you should get medical attention straight away.
- If your child is still awake and breathing, don’t do anything apart from encouraging his/her own efforts and calling for medical help. Do not slap your child on the back whilst he/she is upright, and do not put your fingers into your child’s mouth to feel for the object – you are most likely to push it further down or cause bleeding.
- If your child is losing consciousness or is unable to breathe, do not leave him/her but shout for help immediately
- Give five back blows – lie him/her down with the head below the chest and give five sharp slaps in the middle of the back.
- Give five chest thrusts – push firmly in the centre of the breastbone. Use two fingers for a baby and the palm of your hand for a child.
- If he/she stops breathing, make five attempts to blow air gently into his/her mouth, making a tight seal with your lips.
- If the object has not come out, repeat the sequence above.
- Try abdominal thrusts instead of chest thrusts if the child is over one year old (do not do this in babies). Push firmly inwards and upwards just below the ribs – this can be done lying down or standing.
For Child Safety Week by RoSPA, Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents