Choking vs Gagging

Who here is terrified of their child choking?

*raises hand* – Yep, me too.

In a recent Instagram poll, over 700 people said they wanted to know the difference between choking and gagging, so we consulted our friends at Tiny Hearts Education who are experts in baby and child first aid to help 

explain the difference!

So, Tiny Hearts – tell us, what actually is gagging?

The gag reflex is a contraction of the back of the throat triggered by an object touching the roof of the mouth, the back of the tongue or the back of the throat. In babies, this is often triggered by fingers, food, spoons or even toys touching the back of the mouth. When the reflex is activated, it thrusts objects forward towards the opening of the mouth, expelling any substances that the brain has deemed harmful – cool, huh?

A child’s gag reflex often diminishes at around six months of age, which is generally when most babies are learning to eat solid food. Allowing your child to feed independently and explore their hands and toys with their mouths will also help to dwindle the reflex. Some little ones are a bit more sensitive though and have what is known as a ‘hypersensitive’ gag reflex and as a result, will gag more easily. Gagging is super common amongst infants – especially when they are making the transition from smooth to lumpy foods, or when learning to chew. Because gagging is a crucial part of oral motor skill development, please don’t overact when your child gags. Positive reinforcement is key so that gagging can become a learnt behaviour. If your child gags, just move the item of food out of the way and cuddle them.

Okay great, so what can parents expect to see if their child is choking?

Choking is caused by an object that blocks the airway and prevents breathing. When this happens, it’s often silent compared to gagging where children will make retching noises. If your child is choking, they may:

• Have an effective cough
• Have laboured or noisy breathing
• Have some air escaping the mouth
• Be anxious or display distressed behaviour
• Have a red face
• Have watery eyes
• Be clutching at the throat

These above symptoms are what’s known as partial obstruction. If their airway is completely blocked – then this is known as a complete obstruction and is characterised by the patient being unable to cough. This type of airway obstruction is a sign that a foreign object is completely obstructing the patient’s airway and they are unable to breathe.

Signs and symptoms are:

• Inability to breathe
• Inability to cough
• Inability to speak
• No breath sounds
• No escape of air from the nose or mouth
• Vigorous attempts to breathe
• Clutching at the throat
• Skin turning pale and then blue
• Collapse and unconsciousness

What should we do if our child starts to choke?

If your child has an effective cough, use gravity and lean them forward. Encourage them to keep coughing. If the obstruction cannot be cleared, you must call 000; if they lose their forceful cough use the next technique for a complete obstruction.

If your child does not have an effective cough, you should:

• Start with DRSABCD (Danger, Response, Send for Help, Airway, Breathing, CPR and Defibrillation)
• Call 000
• Place your child in a head-down position – infant (under 1-year-old) across your lap and child (1 – 8
years old) sitting or standing up
• Give up to five back blows using the heel of one hand, in between the shoulder blades. Short and
sharp. Check the airway between each back blow to see if the obstruction has cleared.

If your child is still choking:

Give up to five chest thrusts using two fingers (one hand for a child), in the middle of the chest between the nipples. Short and sharp. Check the airway between each chest thrust to see if the obstruction has cleared.

If your child is still choking:

Alternate between five back blows and five chest thrusts until the obstruction is cleared (checking the airway to see if it has cleared in between each back blow or chest thrust), paramedics arrive, or until they render unconscious. If they render unconscious, you must start CPR.

Note: The obstruction may clear during CPR compressions. If this occurs, roll your child on their side and clear the mouth of the foreign object.

The best way to be prepared for a choking incident is to have proper technique practise and you can do this at a Tiny Hearts First Aid course. Their course guides parents through choking first aid and gives you ample time to
practise your skills on manikins.

And to make sure you all get a chance to learn these life-saving skills, Tiny Hearts is offering all Sleep Dept.readers $10 off their next booking! All you need to do is enter the code SLEEP10 at the checkout to receiveyour discount. Click here to view dates or to book.

For any other choking or gagging related questions, make sure you reach out to the team at Tiny Hearts who are always willing to respond to your question via DM.

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