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No Joke, Don’t Choke!

Did you know that family gatherings during holidays are a common setting for serious choking accidents in children? We reached out to Lisa Valadie, the Community Educator and a paramedic with City of Madison Fire Department, in order to learn more about chocking accidents and to be better equipped in case a loved one becomes a victim of this unfortunate event. 

Q: Lisa, why are there more cases of choking during the holiday season? 

A: Unfortunately, choking is the fourth leading cause of unintentional deaths in our nation. This time of year – I call it the candy season – it seems we are constantly eating at family gatherings, parties, etc.

Q: When a child is chocking, is it always clear to those around? 

A: Not always. The first step with any emergency is recognizing it. If a child looks scared, with skin possibly getting darker around the mouth, trying to cough, but not making any noise, call 911. 

Q: If medical professionals aren’t around, but the situation is critical, what should you do? 

A: This is important to understand. You sit down to have dinner with your family and realize your child is choking. Would you know what to do? Every second counts in an emergency! Learn and practice how to help save yourself or a family member! You can attend a CPR class or watch a video online. Whichever it is, please take a few minutes to not only learn the skill, but to practice it.

Q: Is there a difference in providing first aid to children of different ages? 

A: Yes. For a baby under age 1, do 5 back blows between the shoulder blades, holding the head lower than the rest of the body. Flip her over and do 5 chest compressions. While doing the compressions, be sure to use two fingers instead of the palm of your hand. Keep doing this until the baby starts breathing and crying forcefully. If the child is unresponsive, start CPR.

For ages 1-9, put your fist, thumb side against the belly, between belly button and the sternal notch. Press in and up repeatedly and firmly until the object is expelled. If the child becomes unresponsive, start CPR. For ages over 9, do the same as above, but with your other hand over your fist. Once again, if the child becomes unresponsive, start CPR.

Q: Are there any special tools or devices that may help during a choking emergency? 

A: Recently, I’ve noticed devices for obstructed airways on my Facebook feed. These devices claim to provide better results than the technique we’ve always been taught. They also claim to prevent injuries while saving your child’s life if choking. Well, do they actually work? The answer is not a simple yes or no. The video manuals require laying the choking victim flat. The next step requires you to place the application tube over the tongue, and ensure the mask covers the nose and the mouth, to get a good seal. You then tilt the head back, raise the chin, and finally pull the plunger. All of this requires the victim to lie still. Someone who is choking and most certainly in a state of panic will not lie down and be still. 

Q: Have you actually seen one of these devices in action?

A: The device I researched has an FDA class 1 rating. Other products with this rating are bandages, stethoscopes, and hydrogen peroxide. There are a few other facts about this device that are worth considering. The studies were done on cadavers, not live subjects. The manufacturing of this device does not follow the American Heart Association guidelines. If you’ve bought one of these devices, do your research on it and learn other techniques for airway obstruction.

Q: Any other important health and safety reminders as we step into holiday season? 

A: Here are a few: 

• We never know when an emergency will happen, but we should be prepared, just in case.

• Have your house number on mailbox and house clearly marked. 

• Teach children their address and phone numbers

• Learn basic first aid, including CPR. 

• Don’t just call for help, be the help!

Lisa is the Community Educator and a paramedic with City of Madison Fire Department. She is an advocate for child safety and teaches many classes in the community including CPR, first aid, and proper use of car seats. If you have any questions, please contact her at

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