Last month, an anonymous parent posted on the website MumsAdvice.co.uk about the dangers of the seemingly innocuous sweet treat: “With Easter coming up I want to warn you all about another deadly choking hazard, one that tragically took away my child,” she wrote. “It has been just short of three years since my precious little girl Sophie passed away. She had choked on a mini egg and I was unable to dislodge it, even with back slaps and pushing up under her ribs, I had done a first aid course one six months prior to this event so all the techniques to help a choking child were still fresh in my mind but it didn’t help.”
It’s a stark reminder of how easy it is for small children to choke on food. In fact, 85% of choking deaths are caused by food, says Emma Hammett from First Aid for Life: “We’re already aware some foods are classic choking hazards because of their size and shape, such as grapes – in fact, grapes are deemed such a risk that many schools and nurseries ban them from packed lunches. Furthermore, foods such as mini tomatoes, blueberries, popcorn and the small decorations on the top of cupcakes can also lend themselves to being choking hazards. However, many of us remain unaware some chocolate, like Mini Eggs, Maltesers and Smarties can also be choking hazards for precisely the same reason – they are the perfect shape and size to be inhaled into a windpipe.”
Cadbury’s warn consumers the product could be a choking hazard and therefore shouldn’t be consumed by anyone under the age of four. Sophie was five at the time she died. Therefore, it’s always important to keep an eye on children as they eat any food, but especially those commonly involved in choking incidents.
Here are Emma’s top tips for ensuring this doesn’t happen to your child:
1. When selecting a sweet treat buy larger, hollow eggs that are less of a choking hazard.
2. If the Easter egg does contain a smaller packet of sweet treats, be sure to cut these in half to prevent them being able to block an airway.
3. Carefully supervise children whilst eating them.
4. Babies and young children can choke on anything small enough to fit through the inside of a loo roll. To prevent choking, keep small objects out of reach, cut food into very small pieces.
5. Refrain from competitions involving food. The popular game ‘Chubby Bunny’ where as many marshmallows as possible are stuffed into the mouth, has proved fatal.
6. Never play games with food throwing them up in the air and catching them in your mouth, or someone else’s mouth.
7. Talking, laughing or crying with something in your mouth can also lead to choking. The sharp intake of breath which happens when you gasp, is sufficient to propel an object from your mouth and into your airway.
8. Don’t eat or chew whilst exercising.
9. A further hidden danger of sweets and choking has been highlighted when children or adults first wear fixed dental braces. As their tongue and teeth adapt to the new appliance, their usual ability to control food items in the mouth – including chocolate treats – is severely reduced and has led to instances of choking. Extra care needs to be paid to this period of adjustment.
How to help a choking child
Of course, the will be instances where choking can’t be prevented. Sometimes it’s just bad luck, but knowing how to respond calmly could make all the difference. The first step is to encourage the child to cough in order to dislodge the trapped food. If this isn’t successful, try back blows.
1. Bend forward and support their chest with your hand. Children can also be bent over your knee.
2. Perform five back blows, checking in between to see if the blockage has been cleared before repeating.
If this hasn’t dislodged the obstruction, it’s time to phone 999 and start administering abdominal thrusts. To do this, stand behind the person choking and place one hand in a fist under their rib cage. Use the other hand to pull up and under, to dislodge the obstruction. Think of it as a J-shaped motion to pull up and under their rib cage. Do this up to five times, and check each time to see if the obstruction has cleared. If this hasn’t worked, call 999 and keep alternating between back blows and abdominal thrusts until the emergency services arrive.
How to help a choking baby
For babies under a year old, it’s important to never administer abdominal thrusts. Instead start by looking in the baby’s mouth and if there’s something obvious that you can remove with your fingers (do not put your fingers down a baby’s throat or finger sweep the mouth. This can make matters worse by pushing the obstruction further down or causing swelling). If that doesn’t work, take the following steps:
1. Lie the baby tilting downwards on your forearm or across your legs, supporting them under the chin. Using the flat of your hand, give a firm back blow between the shoulder blades.
2. Give up to five back blows and check between each one to see if the blockage has cleared. If they are still choking, call the emergency services and start chest thrusts straight away.
3. Lie the baby on their back, place two fingers in the centre of the chest, just below the nipple line, and give up to five chest thrusts. Do this by pushing down hard and fast, roughly 1/3 of the depth of their chest. Check to see if the blockage has cleared between each chest thrust.If you are unable to dislodge the obstruction, be sure to call 999 and continue alternating these steps until the emergency services arrive. It’s these steps that could be the difference between life and death – as the MumsAdvice poster said, “If just one person reads this and watches their toddler, child or teen extra close when eating these, my daughter’s death will not be in vain. I would love to have them removed from the shelves but I know this will not happen, but getting parents to be extra vigilant is the best I can do, please watch your babies.”
Find out more at FirstAidForLife.org.uk
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