Have you ever heard someone coughing while they were eating or drinking then afterwards saying ”Oh that went down the wrong way?”
At the back of your throat food and air both travel through the same tube for a short distance until the tube divides into two tubes – the oesophagus (say oss-off-a-gus) which carries food down into the stomach, and the trachea (trak-ee-a)(windpipe) which carries air to the lungs.
There is a small flap at the top of the trachea called the epiglottis (ep-i-glot-iss) and this closes off the top of the trachea when you swallow some food or a drink. Sometimes food slips past the flap and into the windpipe – which can block the windpipe. This is called ’choking’.
Coughing is an automatic reaction by the body trying to push the lump of food up out of the windpipe. Most of the time we can cough the lump out, but sometimes the food lodges in the windpipe and a person can actually die.
Keeping yourself safe
You can keep yourself safe from choking by:
• Chewing every mouthful of food until it is small and soft enough to swallow.
• Not talking or moving around when you’re chewing food. (Talking with your mouth full looks gross as well!)
• Not putting anything into your mouth other than food or drink.
Look after the ’littlies’
Little kids are only just learning to eat. They may only have a few teeth and no back teeth to help them grind up their food until it’s small and soft enough to be safe to swallow. They often put small things into their mouths, like small parts of toys.
You can help little kids by:
. Cutting up their food into small pieces.
.Taking off skin and fat from meat such as sausages.
. Grating hard food like carrots and apples so that they’re safer to eat.
. Mashing hard veggies for them.
. Don’t give them nuts, popcorn, hard lollies or whole grapes.
If someone is coughing, wait and see if the person can cough the food up. If the person can then breathe normally, usually nothing more needs to be done - but get a grownup to check that the person is okay. If the person is not able to breathe normally get help as soon as possible.