CDC Warns of Choking-Game Deaths

The CDC today warned parents, teachers, and health care
providers about the so-called choking game, which has killed at least 82 U.S.
youths since 1995.

"The choking game involves intentionally trying to choke oneself or
someone else with one's hand or a noose to attain a brief euphoric state or
high. If the strangulation is prolonged, which is something that can happen
very quickly, death or a serious injury can result," explains Robin Toblin,
PhD, MPH, of the CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.

The CDC found 82 media reports of choking-game deaths in the U.S. from 1995
to 2007. The kids who died were 13 years old, on average, and 87% were boys.
Nearly all of their parents weren't aware of the choking game before their
child died.

Warning Signs of the Choking Game

The CDC urges parents, teachers, and health care workers to learn the
possible warning signs of the choking game:


  • Discussion of the game, including other names for it, such as "pass-out
    game" or "space monkey"

  • Bloodshot eyes

  • Marks on the neck

  • Severe headaches

  • Disorientation after spending time alone

  • Ropes, scarves, and belts tied to bedroom furniture or doorknobs or found
    knotted on the floor

  • The unexplained presence of dog leashes, choke collars, and bungee
    cords.


"If parents believe their child is playing the choking game, they should
speak to them about the life-threatening dangers associated with the game and
seek additional help if necessary," Toblin said at a news
conference.

Rise in Choking Game Deaths

"Three or fewer choking game-related deaths per year were reported in
the news media from 1995-2004," says Toblin. "However, there was a jump
to 22 reports of deaths in 2005 and 30 reports in 2006. In 2007 there was a
sharp decrease, with nine deaths occurring in the first 10 months."

It's not clear if choking game deaths are down or if they're getting less
media coverage.

The choking game isn't new. "What is new now is that children are
playing alone and that they're using ligatures [nooses]," says Toblin.

She notes that kids appear to be learning the choking game from each other
and that the CDC doesn't expect its report -- and publicity about the report --
to increase children's choking-game deaths.

Deaths weren't included in the study if they were linked to autoerotic
asphyxiation, which the CDC defines as a practice of choking oneself during
sexual stimulation.

Deaths also weren't included in the study if it wasn't clear whether the
child was trying to commit suicide . Youth suicides by hanging or suffocation tend
to peak at age 19, whereas choking-game deaths peak at 13, "so these really
seem to be different phenomenon," says Toblin.

The CDC relied on media reports for the study because choking-game deaths
aren't noted on death certificates.

The findings appear in the Feb. 15 edition of the CDC's Morbidity and
Mortality Weekly Report
.

By Miranda Hitti
Reviewed by Louise Chang
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