Swallowed, dropped, burned? First aid for children

Swallowed, dropped, burned: There are many dangers lurking within your own four walls, especially for young children. Typical are falls, suffocation, burns, scalds and poisoning. Parents are often able to intervene in time – but not always, and then quick and considered action is required. dr Till Dresbach is a senior physician at the department of neonatology and pediatric intensive care at the University Hospital Bonn and has held emergency courses for children for more than ten years. He emphasizes: “In an emergency, parents can only do something wrong if they do nothing.” And although all parents naturally want to never get into such a situation, they should know how to help their child. “It is important that parents think about what to do in an emergency.” The best way to learn and train first aid on children is in a very practical course. But watching videos about it, for example, is better than not dealing with it at all. He is convinced that many emergencies can be prevented if parents know the sources of danger and act accordingly.

We have compiled the right actions in an emergency, which you can download here.

ingestion and suffocation

The dangers: Small parts of toys, nuts, grapes, button batteries, balls…

What to do? If objects get stuck in the trachea or get into the lungs, the child threatens to suffocate. If they can still cough effectively, you can support them: hold them with your torso bent and encourage them to keep coughing. You can see that this is still possible if your child cries, breathes before coughing and is responsive.

Button batteries are particularly dangerous, even if they are only swallowed and do not enter the airways: “They can cause serious chemical burns in the body,” explains intensive care physician Dresbach.

Some children put objects up their noses. Possible consequences: purulent cold, blocked nasal breathing or nosebleed. The pediatrician or ear, nose and throat doctor removes the objects again.

How to prevent? When young children swallow something, they usually pass it out through their intestines. “If these go the wrong way and end up in the trachea, it’s often because the child is scared,” explains Meier. In such situations, avoid hasty admonitions or loud scoldings. Otherwise, the following applies: leave no small parts lying around, note the age information for toys. Don’t give small, hard foods to small children – and them, like grapes, only when they can really chew them. Don’t fuss while eating.

First aid


Fall on your head

The dangers: Falling off the changing table, stairs, slippery floors, tripping hazards such as toys or carpets, riding a balance bike or bicycle, walkers…

What to do? “It is normal for the child to scream or cry after a fall,” explains Dr. Florian Meier from Miesbach, state doctor of the Bavarian Red Cross. “If it doesn’t, stays in bed for a long time, falls asleep again and again, these are warning signs that something worse could have happened.” Affected children are best treated in the emergency department because of the diagnostic options.

Stop bleeding with a sterile compress. If it’s bleeding profusely, call 112. “When in doubt, it’s better to go to the doctor one time too many than too few,” advises Meier. If the child is not breathing or has no pulse – also for reasons other than after a fall – you must perform CPR. “If you’re alone, call 911 after one minute of CPR. It’s best to use speakerphone so you can continue to care for the child while you’re on the phone,” explains Dr. Till Dresbach, chief of pediatric critical care medicine at University Hospital Bonn. If someone is still present, one takes care of the child and the other takes care of the emergency call. If the child is dazed, lethargic or confused, the pupils are different sizes, blood or fluid comes out of the mouth, nose or ears or there is a large bruise on the head: call 112.

If the child is nauseous or vomiting the day after the fall, take them to the pediatrician or the emergency room. It could have a concussion.

How to prevent? “You will never be able to completely prevent injuries,” stresses Meier. “But some serious falls are avoidable.” Important: stairwell doors. Always keep a hand on the child on the changing table. Windowsills or kitchen sideboards are taboo. On scooters, bicycles or balance bikes only with a helmet.

poisoning and chemical burns

The dangers: Cleaning products, medicines, cleaning products, alcohol, lamp oils, barbecue lighters, plants…

What to do? In case of life-threatening symptoms such as loss of consciousness or seizures, parents call 112. Otherwise, the following applies: call the poison control centre. Explain exactly what happened to which product over the phone. There are experts at the poison control center who can assess whether the child needs to be hospitalized, whether it is enough to continue to monitor it, or whether everything is in order.

You can do it yourself: “If the child has splashed cleaning agents in the eyes, it is best to rinse them off with water,” advises toxicologist Dr. Thomas Hofer. To do this, lay your child on his back and let the water drip into his eyes from a saturated towel.

If the child has swallowed a liquid, the following applies in most cases: rinse it off – with water, tea or juice in small sips. In the case of foam-forming substances, anti-foaming agents such as Simethicone can help after consultation with the poison control centre.

In case of skin contact, remove clothing and rinse the affected area under running water. If toxic substances have been inhaled, fresh air is important. From the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, there is the free app “Poisoning Accidents in Children” with important phone numbers and information.

Do not do: induce vomiting. Vomit can get into the lungs. Never give milk or salt water! Medicinal charcoal should only be given when instructed by professionals.

How to prevent? Store dangerous products in such a way that children cannot reach them. It is best to avoid using particularly aggressive products.

If you have a garden or balcony with plants, you should teach your children the following rule. “Don’t eat anything you don’t know for sure,” says Höfer.

Child plays with cleaning products

What to do in case of poisoning?

Drunk on the cleaners, swallowed daddy’s pills: children don’t know that some things that look like food are harmful. How parents provide first aid

burns and scalds

The dangers: Hot drinks, filled hot water bottles, stove, inhalation over a bowl, iron and kettle (hanging cables!), baking trays…

What to do? Remove clothing from affected areas if not stuck to skin! For small children, cool minor burns immediately. Important: keep an eye on whether the child is well. Cooling reduces pain and can reduce the depth of the burn. But: “Not with ice,” emphasizes Dresbach, “but under running, room-temperature water for about 20 minutes.” Otherwise, there is a risk of children becoming cold or suffering thermal damage. This is why burns in babies do not cool! The rule here is: call 112 and “collect them and calm them down as best they can until the emergency services arrive”. Larger burns, the size of a leg, will not cool, even in small children – call emergency services immediately. If the face, genitals or joints are affected: go to hospital. After cooling, cover burns with sterile compresses. Alternatively, you can use cling film. “It does not stick to the wound, and the wound cannot contaminate.” She will remain there until medical attention is provided. For all such wounds larger than the palm of a child, you should take the child to the doctor after the initial treatment to be on the safe side.

Do not do: Never treat burns with flour, powder or the like. The same applies to fire salves, ice or cooling packs. Do not open burn blisters.

How to prevent? “A child on your lap and a hot drink in hand, it’s a no-go!” says Dresbach. Keep hot drinks out of the reach of children. Use a grain pad instead of a hot water bottle. Inhale only with a special inhaler. Be careful when cooking, secure the stove and oven.


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