While colorful, fun, and a birthday party staple, balloons pose a danger to young children. In fact, the March of Dimes calls balloons “one of the most hazardous toys for children.” It’s no wonder considering that nearly half of all choking-related fatalities reported to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) between 1990 and 2010 involved balloons.
According to the CPSC, accidents involving balloons tend to occur in two ways. Some children have sucked uninflated balloons into their mouths and throats, often while attempting to inflate them or while sucking or chewing on them. In other cases, children have sucked in broken balloon pieces that they were playing with.
These bits can obstruct a child’s airway, making it impossible to breathe. Because pieces of latex can easily conform to the trachea, it is difficult to expel them with the Heimlich maneuver.
By law, balloons are required to include the following warning on their labels:
- CHOKING HAZARD—Children under 8 years can choke or suffocate on uninflated balloons or broken balloons. Adult supervision required.
- Keep uninflated balloons from children. Discard broken balloons at once.
However, many parents fail to read the fine print, and pre-inflated balloons, such as those distributed at street fairs or festivals, don’t come with warnings.
Here are a few tips to consider for babies and young children:
- Skip latex balloons. The Public Interest Research Group recommends parents don’t buy balloons for children under 8 years old. If you do, make sure there is adult supervision to avoid accidental ingestion of broken balloon pieces or uninflated balloons.
- Opt for mylar balloons. Made from metalized nylon film, these balloons are sturdier than latex balloons, easier to inflate, less likely to be inhaled and less likely to break into small pieces. Mylar balloons are more expensive, but they are safer for children.
- Discard broken balloons immediately. Discard broken balloons immediately, especially if you have curious crawlers around. And keep uninflated balloons away from children.
- Don’t play with water balloons. It’s inevitable that water balloons will break. That’s the point, right? When balloons pop, especially in a child's hands, there's a greater risk of small latex pieces getting lodged in their throat.
- Don’t pop balloons. A safer way to deflate a balloon is to make a small cut with scissors near the knotted end of the balloon. This will allow the balloon to deflate slowly (plus, it doesn’t make that alarming popping sound!).