June 21, 2013

Hot Dogs and Choking—Keep This Fourth of July Safe

iStock 000013827267XSmallThe first image that comes to mind when we think of what can go wrong on the Fourth of July usually involves fireworks. Dangerous as those can be, there’s another common summer holiday item that can cause a life-threatening emergency at your company or family picnic.

That’s right. I’m talking about the humble hot dog, and you know how kids love them.

Dr. Gary Smith, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, has this to say about the all-American snack:

“If you were to design the perfect plug for a child’s airway, you couldn’t do much better than a hot dog"
         -Dr. Gary Smith

“If you were to design the perfect plug for a child’s airway, you couldn’t do much better than a hot dog…It will wedge itself in tightly and completely block the airway, causing the child to die within minutes because of lack of oxygen.”

In their 2010 policy statement Prevention of Choking Among Children, the American Academy of Pediatrics cites some sobering statistics about the dangers of choking, and references the hot dog in particular:

“From 1972 to 1992, 449 deaths from aspirated nonfood foreign bodies among children aged 14 years or younger were recorded by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Nearly two thirds (65%) of these fatalities were among children younger than 3 years. Latex balloons were associated with 29% of deaths overall. Choking on food causes the death of approximately 1 child every 5 days in the United States. Hot dogs accounted for 17% of food-related asphyxiations among children younger than 10 years of age in a 41-state study by Harris et al.”

And it’s not just children. Only last month, a young woman died after choking on a hot dog at a Cubs game in Chicago.

So what happens when we choke? Our MEDIC First Aid BasicPlus program explains that:

Choking can occur when a solid foreign object, such as a piece of food, or small object, enters a narrowed part of the airway and becomes stuck. On inhalation, the object can be drawn tighter into the airway and block air from entering the lungs. Your help is required to save the person’s life.

A provider must be able to recognize the difference between a mild blockage and a severe blockage. With a mild blockage, a person can speak, cough, or gag. This type of blockage is typically cleared by coughing. Encourage someone with a mild blockage to cough forcibly. Stay close and be ready to take action if things worsen.

When a severe blockage occurs, a person cannot dislodge the object on his own. Signs of severe obstruction include very little or no air exchange, lack of sound, the inability to speak or cough forcefully, and the person may hold his hands to his throat as he attempts to clear the obstruction.

The first aid response for a choking victim is the classic abdominal thrust. This easy-to-learn technique can make all the difference: 


  • Ask, “Are you choking?”
  • If person nods yes, or is unable to speak or cough—act quickly!
  • If available, have a bystander activate EMS.

Position Yourself

  • Stand behind person. Reach around and locate navel.
  • Make a fist with other hand and place thumb side against abdomen, just above navel and below ribs.
  • Grasp fist with other hand.

Give Thrusts

  • Quickly thrust inward and upward into abdomen.
  • Repeat. Each thrust needs to be given with intent of expelling object.
  • Continue until person can breathe normally.

If Person Becomes Unresponsive…

  • Carefully lower to ground.
  • If not already done, activate EMS
  • Begin CPR, starting with compressions
  • Look in mouth for an object before giving rescue breaths. Remove any object if seen.

When someone is clearly pregnant or obese, use chest thrusts instead of abdominal thrusts. And, if you are alone and you are choking, try pressing your abdomen quickly against a rigid surface, such as the back of a chair. If one is not available, attempt abdominal thrusts on yourself.

Experience how easy responding with simple first aid can be. Take a class today!

Find A Class, ASHI, MEDIC First Aid

All of us at HSI wish you a safe, incident-free Fourth of July! 


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