Choking at Christmas?

While you’re busy spending time preparing for Christmas, brush up on your choking treatments too! There are lots of parties with finger food, nuts come out at this time of year, new toys with small parts & batteries, the choking risk-list is long at Christmas!

How to know if someone is choking

Peanuts are the biggest cause of choking

Ask them ‘Are you choking?’ – remember at this point hopefully they are still conscious and able to hear you! Before you do this, you may also have to catch them – people easily get embarrassed and try to hide. Common signs & symptoms include:

  • The person cannot speak or cry out, or has great difficulty and limited ability to do so.
  • Breathing, if possible, is labored, producing gasping or wheezing.
  • The person desperately clutches his or her throat or mouth
  • Eventually, the person’s face turns blue.
  • The person does any or all of the above, and then becomes unconscious.

How to treat choking

OK, so you’ve found out that they are choking on their Christmas treats, now what to do? There are four steps to follow, possibly in this order and depending on how severe the choking is

  • Encourage Coughing
  • Back Blows
  • Get an Ambulance
  • Abdominal Thrusts

Encourage Coughing

If they cannot breathe at all (no gasping, no noise, etc.) then skip this step! If they can move air then encourage them to cough. They may be able to remove the obstruction themselves by coughing out the object. You don’t need to go beating on someone who can cough out the Christmas nut themselves just fine!

Back Blows

So either they can’t cough out the object, or they couldn’t breathe in the first place and you skipped ‘encourage coughing’ OK – on with the back blows, back slaps or whatever you want to call them. Get consent first!! Explain you’re trained and what you’re going to do. Most people don’t appreciate being suddenly beaten up!

Bend the person over – babies over your knee and kids/adults standing, bend at the waist. Strike firmly between the shoulder blades up to five times. It may help them cough out the obstruction, or just ‘shake’ it out. If it comes out after one or two blows, it’s OK to stop hitting the person – you don’t have to go for the full five.

Get an Ambulance

People I’ve talked to who have dealt with choking (at any time, not just Christmas) say that the back blows usually work. If you’ve got this far, they’ve been ‘not breathing’ for a while now. Seriously – get help. Better yet, get someone else to get help while you do the…

Abdominal Thrusts

Abdominal thrusts for chokingIf it’s really stuck, this is pretty much the last resort. Stand behind the person and wrap your arms round their waist. Squeeze in and up such that you come under the lungs & diaphragm and hopefully ‘pop’ the object out. When the Christmas Candy comes out, stop and assess their ability to breathe.

The procedure is different with babies because of the risk of doing internal damage. Really – it’s hard to describe this in a blog post, get some training and practice it! Alternate 5 of these with 5 back blows until the object comes out or they become unconscious.

If you have small children around at Christmas, remember to tell them to sit down with snacks!

Happy Christmas!

Finally, here’s a free PDF from us, covering ‘choking’ in even more detail. Help yourself and pass it on – it’s Christmas after all. (OK so if you’re late reading this, the PDF should still be there, you can still have it for free!)

About Tony Howarth

Tony is a First Aid & CPR Instructor Trainer with Sea 2 Sky Safety Training Services and the company founder. Tony started with the British Red Cross in 1994. Has acted as first aid attendant for hundreds of events & treated many hundreds of people as a result. He is experienced in training a wide range of courses. He previously worked as an ambulance attendant with the British Red Cross. He is now in BC as a first aid instructor, and an instructor trainer (one who trains others to become instructors) Finally, Tony works at UBC Hospital as a pharmacist when not busy training safety
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