COLORADO, USA — A child will die from choking every five days in the U.S.
Kids younger than age 5 are at highest risk because their molars do not come in until 3 years old, and they are learning to chew their food.
As an emergency room doctor and mom, I thought I had it all figured out.
But my 2-year old daughter Madeline always finds a way to test everything I think I know.
Madeline had found a Kind bar, with dark chocolate and some nuts that her big brother was eating. She asked to have a few bites of what was left.
Even though I knew the hazards, I said yes, as long as I could watch her eat it and she would sit down to eat. She was eating when I heard her start to cough and gag. I ran over to her.
She said her neck hurt but was able to talk and tell me it was hard to swallow. I did some back blows and a few abdominal thrusts to try to see if I could dislodge what was in her throat. She coughed, but never spit anything back up.
Right after that, I gave her a few sips of water, and she went back to playing.
She started to have a “croupy,” a barking cough every few minutes. I kept asking her, “Can you breathe? Are you ok?”
She said she was fine, but I trusted my “mommy instincts” and my ER training and thought, “We should at least get her checked out, and get an x-ray.”
In the ER, she continued to have her cough. Her vital signs were totally normal, including her blood oxygen levels and breathing rate. Her x-ray showed air trapping, which can indicate a blockage in the lungs causing the air space to look dark on the x-ray.
A few hours later, we were transferred over to The Children’s Hospital of Colorado, where the team acted quickly to take her to the operating room.
They removed a full-sized peanut from her right lung. Fortunately, I had been there with her when she was eating to hear her choke.
We got her to the hospital quickly and had it removed.
Most importantly, I used this as an opportunity to reset and look at my own home again to see what can be a choking hazard for my daughter.
Common foods that can be a choking hazard
- Hot dogs
- Raw vegetables and fruits
- Nuts and seeds (including granola bars with nuts)
- Sticky foods like marshmallows, fruit snacks, gummy bears
Tips to keep your kids safe
- Supervise your children while they are eating.
- Cut food into small pieces (D-size battery or less).
- Never let your children walk or talk while eating.
- Know CPR and choking relief for children and infants.
- Trust your gut. Choking can happen at any time or anywhere. If your child is not acting right, seek immediate help and get to an ER immediately.
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