According to NSC’s Injury Facts, choking has an “average rate of 1.6 deaths per 100,000 population.” This statistic significantly increases after the age of 71. The National Safety Council continues to state that “choking is the fourth leading cause of unintentional injury death.”
Serious choking can often seem like one of those situations that would never happen to you, and you might be right. Some people go through their entire lives without experiencing or witnessing choking. Nevertheless, it doesn’t hurt to be aware of what you should do if someone is choking.
Here are the facts around choking, as well as the nine most common foods to cause choking.
What Is Choking & When Can it Happen?
Choking occurs when an object, often a food item, gets caught in the back of someone’s throat. When this happens, the object blocks the person’s trachea, which disables their ability to breathe.
You may have experienced minor choking yourself, where food has partially blocked the air pathway. Maybe you ate too quickly, or you were laughing while eating with friends. While this experience is also categorized as choking, it often has no lasting impact.
When Is Choking Most Likely to Occur?
Choking most often occurs during eating. The risk is increased if the person is talking or excessively moving while doing so.
Choking can also occur if an object is placed in the mouth that is wider than the throat pipe. This situation often happens with young children.
Who Is Most at Risk of Choking?
The two main categories of people that are at risk of choking include young children and elderly adults.
Medlineplus states, “Young children are at an especially high risk of choking. They can choke on foods like hot dogs, nuts and grapes, and on small objects like toy pieces and coins. Keep hazards out of their reach and supervise them when they eat.”
With that in mind, anyone can experience choking at any time, and the below foods are often the cause.
Top 9 Choking Foods
When you’re aware, you can prepare. Here is a list of the top nine foods that may cause choking to occur.
Hard candy — Commonly given to children, hard candy has a specific texture that can be swallowed easily and will block the entire breathing pathway.
Grapes — The shape of a grape can easily cause a blockage in the throat and should be cut up into pieces if given to children. Remember, the safest option is for all hard fruits to be avoided or cut into small pieces to avoid choking.
Hotdogs — Due to the shape of hotdogs, even when they are cut up, they can still cause choking. To prevent choking from occurring, make sure to cut up the hotdog into irregular shapes if you are giving it to a child.
Carrots — The shape of carrots and their hard texture can cause choking and pain in the throat. To avoid choking, shred the carrot or cook the carrots until they reach a mushy consistency.
Nuts — Nuts are irregular in shape and often consumed in handfuls, which makes them a great risk for choking.
Noodles — Noodles are often not chewed enough, which can cause them to get caught in the throat. To avoid choking while eating noodles, cut them into smaller pieces before consuming.
Nut butter — Often consumed in spoonfuls, the thick texture of nut butters can get stuck in the throat. Nut butters should be spread thinly onto another food item to best minimize the risk of choking.
Popcorn — Often eaten in handfuls, popcorn can easily cause choking, especially in children. Even the kernels of popcorn, which are sometimes left in the bag, can get caught in a child’s throat.
Steak — If not cooked properly, steak can be hard and chewy, which makes this food item prone to getting caught in the throat.
With that in mind, any food item that is larger than your throat can be a choking hazard, and it is important to be cautious of the amount you are eating at one time.
How Can Choking be Prevented?
You’ll be glad to know that there are things you can do to prevent choking.
First, ensure that all food is cut into small pieces and chewed properly. While there is no official number, it is thought that you should chew 32 times before swallowing.
Additionally, food such as popcorn should not be consumed in large handfuls, and instead eaten a few pieces at a time. Talking while eating and excessive movement should also be avoided.
If someone is at risk of choking, they should be supervised while eating, and all additional choking hazards should be removed from their reach.
What Do You Do If Someone Is Choking?
To identify whether the airway is only partly blocked, check if the person is able to speak, cough, cry, or breathe. If so, they may be able to clear the blockage without intervention. If the person can do any of those, encourage them to cough.
If distress continues or the person is severely choking (cannot breathe at all), begin back blows and abdominal thrusts.
To carry out a back blow on an adult, lean them forward, stand behind them, and, supporting their chest with one hand, and give five hard blows with the heel of your hand to the space between their shoulder blades.
If this isn’t successful, begin abdominal thrusts (also known as the Heimlich Maneuver). Stand behind the person, place your arms around their waist, and bend them forward. Then clench your fist and place it directly above their belly button. Place your other hand on top of that fist, and pull inwards sharply.
This movement should be repeated five times, or until the object is dislodged. If the choking persists, call 911 and continue with both back blows and abdominal thrusts until help arrives.
Do not provide abdominal thrusts to children under 1 years old or pregnant women. The process of helping a baby that is choking is different, and parents and carers should take classes to have specific training in case of emergency.
You might never experience choking as it is mostly common among the elderly and young children, but it is important that everyone understands how to identify choking and what to do if you or somebody is choking, not just caregivers. Choking is an emergency, and you should act as quickly as possible by performing back blows or abdominal thrusts. If the choking continues, you should call 911.
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