It was just like any other day. My family was sitting at the table enjoying our dinner together. The soundscape of the meal got quieter somehow. I didn’t see anything different, but I heard something odd.
My little brother, who was 4 years old at the time, was sitting next to me not making any sounds at all. His mouth was open and when he turned to look at me, my 11 year old brain was really confused about why he was crying, why his face was blue and his lips were purple. The reason he wasn’t making any sound was that he was choking on a piece of food and he didn’t cough or panic. He was paralyzed with fear and so was I. All I managed to say was ‘Mommy!’ Thankfully, my mother is a registered nurse and knew what to do.
You may have a similar story or have experienced an incident where something “went down the wrong tube.” Choking can happen quickly and quietly. Among children aged 5 and under, it’s rarely loud or obvious.
A joint initiative between BC Children’s Hospital and the University of British Columbia has developed a list called Don’t Choke. An important thing you can do is familiarize yourself with these choking hazards and learn about prevention. Some of the most common things that lead to choking injuries and deaths include:
- nuts and seeds
- raw vegetables and fruit
- hard candies
- unpopped popcorn kernels
- plastic stickers and toy parts
- pins and needles
Sadly, half of all toy-related deaths among children are due to choking. Gel candies, on the other hand, fall into a unique category of danger to young children. The same ingredients are sometimes used in Bubble Tea pearls or cubes. In Japan, these gel candies are referred to as ‘the deadly mouthful’.
In the case of my brother, we were lucky. My mother was able to perform the Heimlich, dislodge the food, remove it from his airway and set him into a recovery position before heading off to the emergency room. Being an imaginative 11 year old at the time, I took it as an opportunity to call my little brother my ‘Smurf’ whenever I introduced him to nurses or doctors in the emergency room. But the entire experience has stayed with me and I am now able to help others prevent incidents like these through my work.
Have you ever experienced a choking event or seen a child choke? Take a few moments to consider how to reduce choking hazards for the little ones in your family.
Visit dontchoke.ubc.ca for more information about choking hazards and choking prevention. Learn what to do if you see someone choke here.
Author's Bio: Linda Phillips is a Senior Policy Analyst in Injury Prevention at the Ministry of Health who works on fall prevention for frail seniors and injury prevention. When she’s not preventing injuries she loves to horseback ride.