Warning for parents: Do you know what to do if your child starts choking?

November 15, 2015 12:00am
Jane HansenThe Sunday Telegraph

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WATCHING a few first aid videos on YouTube was all that stood between Claudine Thomas and her daughter Luciana choking to death.
“Mums around me had been telling me to do a first aid course and I hadn’t got around to it but I had watched YouTube videos to get the basics,” Ms Thomas said.

“I put her over my knee, supported her head and hit her back three times and out came this 5cm piece of grout. I was shocked and I still called an ambulance.”

Choking killed three NSW children last year and, with the peak season for choking coming up, doctors are warning that parents must be prepared, not wait until they are in the middle of a life or death situation.

“It’s a frightening event and you can’t check the internet then on what to do, you need to know beforehand what to do,” Dr John Curotta, from the Children’s Hospital at Westmead, said.

The approaching festive season is a peak time for choking incidents, he said.

“A few years ago we had 10 cases coming up to Christmas. There’s Christmas parties, party food like nuts and stuff left behind like Lego and kids will swallow anything because they like to test taste things and test things with their mouths,” Dr Curotta said.

In Luciana’s case, it was a piece of loose tile grout.

Luciana, 13 months, almost choked on a piece of tile grout but her mother Claudine saved her. Picture: Justin Lloyd
The pair had been in the bathroom of their Parramatta home, brushing their teeth. Ms Thomas was distracted for only a moment. The next thing she knew, her child was choking.

“I heard this choking sound and I grabbed her and she was red and blue,” Ms Thomas, 31, said.

Luciana is now fine but Dr Curotta said parents cannot be complacent.

Thanks to Hollywood, he said most people mistakenly think the Heimlich manoeuvre, where you squeeze a child from behind and push their stomachs, is the correct technique.

“Heimlich is in everyone’s mind but it’s not the technique recommended and there’s remarkably little evidence that it works,” he said.“If the child is coughing but still breathing, the best thing to do is quiet them down and call the ambulance with no sudden moves, you don’t want to dislodge the object to a more dangerous position.

“If the child is blue and not breathing, the best thing to do is put the child across you knee with their head down lower than their chest and deliver four sharp blows between the shoulder blades.

“You have gravity helping and the chest on your knees so you are getting good pressure to get air to blast things out.

“If that doesn’t work, put your fingers down the child’s throat and by then you or someone else should call Triple-0.”

Choking is mainly caused by the inhalation of food, followed by inhalation of other foreign bodies. Small airways can easily become blocked or compressed.


■ If child is choking, check first if the child is still able to breathe, cough or cry. Child may be able to dislodge the foreign object by coughing

■ If the child IS breathing, do not try to dislodge the foreign object by hitting the child on the back because this may move the food into a more dangerous position and make the child stop breathing. Phone Triple-0 for an ambulance

■ If the child is NOT breathing try to dislodge the foreign object by placing the child face down over your lap so that their head is lower than their chest and give the child four sharp blows on the back just between the shoulder blades. This should provide enough force to dislodge the foreign object

■ Check again for breathing. If the child is still not breathing, urgently call Triple-0 and ask for an ambulance. The ambulance service will tell you what to do next