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How to respond in a choking emergency

How to respond in a choking emergency

While being a parent is extremely rewarding, one certainty is that parents and those who care for children will need to help them at times of acute injury and illness. Choking or any airway obstruction is something no one ever wishes to witness or experience.

We all know that infants and small children love to put things in their mouths. Not only can small objects like toys, pen lids, balloons, and coins be common causes for choking, small foods like peanuts and lollies can be especially dangerous for children under the age of five.

Understanding the signs, symptoms, and management of an infant/child or adult choking is essential for all parents/carers. It is important to be prepared and educated in first aid as accidents can happen at any time. Being confident in dealing with such situations can be the difference between life and death.

Continue reading to find out the common causes, signs, symptoms, and management of choking for infants, children, and adults.

Common causes of choking:

  • Eating or drinking too quickly
  • Not chewing food sufficiently
  • Swallowing small bones
  • Swallowing small objects.

Signs & symptoms:

  • Clutching the throat
  • Coughing, wheezing, gagging
  • Difficulty breathing, speaking or swallowing
  • Making a whistling or ‘crowing’ noise or no sound at all
  • Face, neck, lips, ears, fingernails turning blue
  • Collapsing or unconsciousness.

Infant (under 1 year):

  1. Call Triple Zero (000) for an ambulance. Stay on the phone
  2. Give back blows:
  3. Place infant with head downwards on you forearm and support head and shoulders on your hand
  4. Hold infant’s mouth open with your fingers
  5. Give up to 5 sharp blows between shoulder blades with heel of one hand
  6. Check if obstruction has been relieved after each back blow
  7. If obstruction relieved, turn infant onto back, remove any foreign material with your little finger

  8. If blockage not cleared after 5 back blows:

  9. Place infant on back on firm surface

  10. Place 2 fingers in the CPR position

  11. Give 5 chest thrusts – slower but sharper than CPR compressions

  12. Check if obstruction has been relieved after each chest thrust

  13. If blockage not cleared after 5 chest thrusts:

  14. Continue alternating 5 back blows with 5 chest thrusts until medical aid arrives

  15. If infant becomes unconscious, commence CPR.

Adult/Child (over 1 year):

  1. Remove object
  2. Encourage casualty to relax
  3. Ask patient to cough to remove object.

  4. If coughing does not remove the blockage:

  • Call Triple Zero (000) for an ambulance
  • Bend casualty forward
  • Give up to 5 sharp blows with the heel of one hand in the middle of the back between shoulder blades
  • Check if obstruction has been relieved after each back blow.
  1. If blockage has not cleared after 5 back blows:
  2. Place one hand in the middle of the casualty’s back for support
  3. Place heel of other hand in the CPR compression position on chest
  4. Give 5 chest thrusts – slower but sharper than CPR compressions
  5. Check if obstruction has been relieved after each chest thrust.

  6. If blockage has not cleared after 5 chest thrusts:

  • Continue alternating five back blows with five chest thrusts until medical aid arrives.
  1. If casualty becomes unconscious:
  • Remove any visible obstruction from mouth
  • Commence CPR.

Even knowing basic first aid can go a long way. To view our full range of courses, including Caring for Kids, that focuses on managing unconsciousness, choking, bleeding, burns, respiratory distress and anaphylaxis, please visit the St John SA courses

Find out more about St John SA