Toddler Choking Hazards and Prevention

Article at a Glance

  • Food causes 60 percent of non-fatal choking incidences, with hard candy being the leading culprit.
  • Only serve children food that they are developmentally ready for and keep small objects out of reach.
  • You and any of your children’s caregivers should learn CPR and choking first aid.

Did you know that the size of a small child’s windpipe is only about the diameter of a drinking straw? Not surprisingly it doesn’t take much to block your child’s airway. No wonder choking is the fourth leading cause of unintentional death in children ages 4 and under.

The biggest culprits are food, coins, and toys—with food causing about 60 percent of non-fatal choking incidences. In the United States, about 34 children go to the emergency room every day for choking on food. And one child dies every five days due to a food-choking related injury.

Luckily it isn’t hard to prevent choking. It just takes a little awareness and foresight. By educating ourselves and others, we can prevent senseless deaths and injuries.

Food Choking Hazards

  • According to a recent study in the journal Pediatrics, hard candy is the leading cause of non-fatal food-related choking incidences. Foods like other types of candy, meat, bones, and raw fruits and vegetables were also some of the most common hazards.
  • Less common culprits include foods like seeds, nuts and shells, chips, pretzels, gum, popcorn, biscuits, chunks of peanut butter, cookies, ice cubes, and crackers.
  • For babies, infant formula, milk and breast milk were common choking hazards.
  • Although hot dogs are not the most common choking hazard, they are the most likely to lead to hospitalization. Foods like hot dogs, seeds, and nuts are particularly dangerous because they are able to block the airway for longer periods of time. This can lead to brain damage or death.
  • Choking is not just a danger for babies and toddlers. Although about one third of non-fatal food-related choking incidences involve children under a year, the average age is 4.5 years.

Food Choking Prevention

  • Teach your children how to chew their food thoroughly.
  • Always supervise your children while they are eating.
  • Don’t allow your kids to eat while playing, running around, or lying down. They should always be sitting in an upright position and focused on what they are doing.
  • Babies and toddlers should not eat foods like grapes, hot dogs, peanuts, or raw vegetables.
  • Cut food up to no larger than half an inch for young children. Hot dogs should be cut lengthwise and widthwise.
  • Cook or steam vegetables to soften them.
  • Teach your older children about the dangers of choking and make sure they don’t give any dangerous foods to your younger children.
  • Learn CPR and choking first aid. Make sure any caregivers or babysitters learn these skills as well. They should also be educated about potential choking hazards.
  • Only serve your children food that they are developmentally ready for. Small children are still developing the teeth and the skills needed to chew and swallow foods safely. Children with specials needs are often more vulnerable to choking risks. Watch for foods that can clump together or hard foods that could block your child’s airway.
  • Be sure to always remove the pit or seeds before serving fruit to small children.
  • Sometimes when a child is choking it can look like the food has been cleared out, but occasionally it can get lodged in the lungs’ small airway passages. If your child has a choking incident and then later develops a cough you might want to see a doctor.

Non-Food Choking Prevention

  • Check under your furniture and between cushions for small objects like coins or popcorn kernels.
  • Follow age guidelines for toys. This can be particularly hard if you have children of varying ages. Teach your older children how to clean up their toys and to keep them away from younger siblings.
  • Don’t let small children play with latex balloons.
  • Keep small children away from things like coins, buttons, toys with smalls parts, marbles, pieces of dog food, button batteries, magnets, small toys that your children can fit entirely in their mouth, the caps of markers or pens, and rubber bands.
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