There is widespread prevalence of American children participating in a deadly activity - "the choking game."

No child is immune. Children in Missoula and surrounding communities have died.

"The choking game" is not a game, but rather voluntary suffocation to the point of unconsciousness. Kids get a "rush" or a lightheaded sensation similar to the feeling of free fall.

There are many different methods of "playing," and the activity is known by many names. Some of the many slang names for this activity are: "five minutes of heaven," "seven minutes until heaven," "the fainting game," "choke out," "airplaning," "the flatline game," "gasping," "passing out," "rush," "the sleeping game," "sleeper hold," "space monkey," "the suffocation game" and the twitching game.

Whatever it is called, it's dangerous.

Any time the brain is without blood or oxygen, cells die. It is also important to know that brain cells do not grow back. Brain cell death, skull fractures, seizures, brain hemorrhaging, stroke, coma, broken legs, vision loss and memory loss are just a few of the consequences of this "game." There is no safe way to "play."

Group play is often the first exposure children have to this activity. After the first group exposure, some children try it on their own using ligatures such as ropes or belts. Anything around the house that can be tied around someone's neck can be used. They tie it to a bedpost or around the bar in a closet. The goal is to cut off the blood and oxygen supply to the brain in order to experience the rush, not to hang oneself. But after blood and oxygen supply is cut off, the player passes out and is unable to remove the ligature.

People as young as 7 and as old as 23 have been reported playing this deadly game.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that 75 percent of middle school children know about this activity, and one in 20 eighth-graders admitted to participating in this type of activity in a 2008 study. That number has since increased. The increase has been linked to the overwhelming supply of how-to videos available on the Internet and the decrease in parental supervision.

Reasons to be concerned that a child is participating in "the choking game" include unexplained sudden headaches, an increase in irritability, bloodshot eyes, strange bruising around the neck or text messages with the symbols ;)/// or ;}))).

You can help to prevent children from participating in this deadly activity. Know the signs and symptoms, talk openly and honestly with your children and increase your supervision if you suspect your child may be involved.

Don't think it can't happen to you child. Most of the children who have died were happy and well adjusted - they just didn't perceive death as a risk factor.

For more information and other tips on keeping your child safe from this activity, go to www.chokinggame.


Stephanie Garoutte is a registered nurse on the pediatric unit at Community Medical Center.


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