Hot dogs pose choking risk

Thursday , July 04, 2013 - 8:26 AM

Have fun at your Fourth of July barbecue, but also keep an eye on the little ones as they wolf down...

Hot dogs may be a staple at many Fourth of July barbecues, but they’re also Public Enemy No. 1 when it comes to choking injuries and deaths among young children.

“Hot dogs are a big culprit,” said Deanna Wolfe, trauma services director at Ogden Regional Medical Center in Washington Terrace.

Foods, small toys and coins are high on the list of choking hazards for young ones. Wolfe offers a few words of wisdom to reduce a child’s risk of injury or death from choking:

• Size matters. A child’s airway is about the size of his or her little finger. This is important to remember in talking about things that should and shouldn’t go in their mouths.

For foods, make sure they’re cut up smaller than that little finger, Wolfe said. For toys and the like, make sure they’re much, much bigger.

• Bad foods. In addition to hot dogs, French fries are another frequent choking hazard for children. Wolfe offers the example of getting French fries at the drive-thru, and handing one to a child in the back seat to keep him quiet. Well, a French fry is just big enough to block a child’s airway, according to Wolfe, and it just might quiet the kid.

“Suddenly you turn around, and you’ve got a blue child,” she said.

Nuts and popcorn are also prime choking-hazard suspects.

• Bad toys. At her home, Wolfe has a toy room separated into toys for children younger than 4 and toys for children older than 4 — and never the twain shall meet.

Legos are a major choking culprit, Wolfe said.

“We’ve pulled many Legos out of children’s airways.”

Water bottle caps are another problem area. Wolfe recommends if you give a child a bottle of water, take the cap away.

• Don’t play ambulance. Avoid the urge to transport a choking child to the hospital.

“The problem is, children are very portable, so people frequently come in with a blue baby,” Wolfe said.

People think they can get their child to the hospital faster than paramedics can respond, but in reality, paramedics get to most calls within minutes, according to Wolfe. And, the moment they arrive at the house, they can begin to render aid.

“When you have a choking loved one, three minutes feels like 30, but resist that urge to throw that child in a car and drive him to hospital,” Wolfe said. “That’s a deadly decision.”

• Making noise? Wait it out. If a choking victim is making any noise at all, be prepared to help, but stand by.

“When someone can make any noise at all, do not intervene,” Wolfe said. “If they’re making noise, you just wait. Their body is better at correcting the problem than we are manually.”

• Silence? Step in. “When they become quiet, that’s when you intervene,” Wolfe said. And the Heimlich maneuver is a good place to start. In fact, if you ever walk into a room and find an unresponsive child, think Heimlich first, according to Wolfe.

• When in doubt, call 911. If a child is choking — even if she can still make noise — and the problem doesn’t go away immediately, call 911. Wolfe said parents shouldn’t worry about false alarms in the event the child starts breathing again.

“If the call gets canceled, or there’s not a child to resuscitate, we’re all happy,” Wolfe said.

• Get skills. Knowing exactly what to do in a choking emergency can make all the difference, and it’s not information you can learn from one newspaper article. Wolfe recommends first-aid training for all — and especially for those who regularly interact with children. The American Red Cross, most hospitals and many other organizations offer first-aid and CPR training.

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