The holidays are a delightful time of the year. There’s nothing more joyful than festive decorations, delicious food, and gifts from “Santa.”

Oddly enough, these holiday favorites are also potential health hazards. It may be the little sausage appetizers that Uncle George ate one too many of. Or the cookie-shaped ornament that little Bonnie mistook for real food. Or the toy you thought Bobby couldn’t possibly take apart, but did, and also swallowed.

Unfortunately, the examples above are fairly common. At about 4,800 fatalities, annually, choking is the fourth leading cause of unintentional injury deaths in the U.S., according to the National Safety Council. And the holidays present more choking hazards than at any other time of the year.

Becoming familiar with common dangers can help prevent choking events. SimpleCPR advises the following:

  • Small Children and Small Toys

    If the toy is small enough to fit in an infant or toddler’s mouth, then it’s too small to let the child have access to it.

  • High risk toys are dollhouse furnishings, miniature figurines, deflated balloons, and toys that can be broken down into smaller parts or easily destroyed.
  • A good “rule of thumb” is that if it’s small enough to fit inside a paper towel roll, small children should not be permitted to play with it.

Also, check out the 2016 most dangerous toys list from World Against Toys Causing Harm.

Trees and Decorations

  • Small objects like light bulbs, tinsel, icicles, ornaments, ornament hangers, and other decorations should be kept away from small children.
  • Needles from holiday trees are highly dangerous because they can cause painful cuts in the throat.

Holiday Food

  • In adults, the most common cause of choking is talking while eating. It may be easy to become distracted during holiday celebrations and lively conversations, but remember to swallow before speaking.
  • Some common holiday foods that pose choking threats are:
    • Hotdogs
    • Popcorn
    • Peanuts
    • Hard candy
    • Sticky, squishy food, such as marshmallows
    • Fruits, such as grapes
    • Vegetables, such as raw carrots
    • Meats
    • Cheeses

Never leave your small child or senior person alone with the above potentially risky foods. The old axiom: ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’ is still true today, especially when it comes to safety.

“In addition to taking these precautions, it’s also important to know what to do when someone is choking – how to perform the Heimlich Maneuver, as well as when to call 911, or in non-emergencies, seek urgent care,” advises Dr. Marco Coppola, Chief Medical Officer.

Using the Heimlich Maneuver

The Heimlich Maneuver is used to expel an object that is blocking the airway in the throat. According to the Mayo Clinic, the steps to perform the maneuver on an adult are:

  1. Stand behind the person. Wrap your arms around the waist. Tip the person forward slightly.
  2. Make a fist with one hand. Position it slightly above the person’s navel.
  3. Grasp the fist with the other hand. Press hard into the abdomen with a quick, upward thrust — as if trying to lift the person up.
  4. Perform a total of 5 abdominal thrusts, if needed. If the blockage still isn’t dislodged, repeat the cycle.

By adjusting the technique, the Heimlich Maneuver can be used on adults, infants, and even yourself. Refresh your familiarity with the procedures and its variations.

Seek Immediate Medical Assistance

Choking is a life-threatening situation, you’ll want to call 911 for emergency service. You can always call back to cancel the ambulance if the choking obstruction is quickly cleared and the person is breathing and speaking normally.

Keep in mind the following:

  • If there is someone else with you and the choking person, you can have the other person call 911 while you use the Heimlich Maneuver.
  • If the choking person loses consciousness, call 911 immediately.
  • If an obstruction was dislodged from a small child, you should still bring her to an urgent care clinic or emergency room to be examined. The object could have moved to a lung or the stomach or have caused internal injury.

Take the above precautions this holiday season to keep yourself and your loved ones safe from choking hazards. The most joyful holidays are those where you and your family are healthy and safe.

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