Choking prevention tips

Choking caused by food, coins, batteries, or toys is an all-too-common form of injury and death among children. It is the fourth most common cause of accidental death in children and, for those under 1 year of age, it is the most common cause. 

More than 10,000 emergency visits each year are due to choking on food by children 14 and younger. The risk of choking is highest among young children, with nearly 75 percent of choking episodes occurring in children under the age of 3.

Recommendations for parents and caregivers

Parents and other caregivers play a heavy hand in creating a child's daily environment. It should come as no surprise that the American Academy of Pediatrics emphasizes the responsibility of parents and caregivers to recognize and reduce choking risks:

  • Choose developmentally appropriate foods. For example, young children lack the necessary grinding motion for hard, smooth foods (such as raw vegetables) until about age 4. Hot dogs are the #1 food-related choking hazards for children. Until at least 3 years of age, hot dogs (as well as other meats, grapes, blueberries, small tomatoes, and other round foods) should be cut into small pieces. For grapes and small tomatoes, cutting into four pieces (rather than just in half) may seem tedious but is recommended.
  • Supervise children when they're eating and encourage them to chew completely before swallowing. 
  • Never allow children to run and play while eating. 
  • Avoid latex balloons. More than a quarter of choking deaths among children younger than 14 years old have been associated with these balloons. Un-inflated balloons and pieces of broken balloons can conform to the child’s airway and form an airtight seal. 
  • Check for small parts when selecting toys for children. Choose toys with parts larger than one-and-three-quarters inches in size, about the diameter of a toilet paper roll. In other words, if it can fit through a toilet paper tube and you have a young child, don’t buy the toy. 
  • Keep the home—especially the floor and surfaces young children can reach—clean and free of small objects. Young children explore their environments by putting even non-food items into their mouths. Coins, paper clips, small batteries, beads, and other small objects may cause choking. 
  • Keep magnets and small batteries of reach, and tape shut any battery compartment, such as on remote controls, or toys. Two of the top choking culprits, batteries and magnets, have been responsible for thousands of injuries in young children, including burns, bowel perforations, and even deaths. 
  • Take an infant/child CPR class that includes instructions about what to do if a child is choking. 

Think you know the 10 most common choking hazards? Read this.

Last updated September 14, 2017

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