Choking is the leading cause of injury and death in children, especially those under age 4. A recent study found that more than 30 children are treated in emergency departments each day for food-related choking. The good news is that choking can be prevented, if you follow a few simple tips.
1. Avoid foods that are choking hazards.
Keep foods such as whole grapes, hot dogs, nuts and popcorn away from babies and young children under 4 years old. Other foods that are choking hazards for children under 4 years old are seeds, hard or sticky candy, chunks of peanut butter, chunks of raw vegetables and chewing gum. When you offer these foods, cut them into very small pieces that are not completely round. When serving sticky foods like peanut butter, use only a small amount and spread a thin layer on a food like bread. This helps prevent the peanut butter from sticking to the roof of your child’s mouth and forming an obstruction on which your child could choke. Children cannot properly chew hard foods (popcorn, nuts, seeds) until they have their molar teeth, and therefore are more at risk of choking or aspirating (food entering the airway) these items. They should not be given these foods until they are able to chew effectively.
2. Keep items that are choking hazards away from babies and young children.
Common choking hazards include coins, buttons, toys with small parts and toys that can fit completely in a child’s mouth, like small balls and marbles. Other common choking hazards are earrings, pen or marker caps, small button type batteries, refrigerator magnet, pieces of dog food, and small hair bows, barrettes and rubber bands.
3. Encourage safe eating behaviors.
Always supervise children at meal times and make sure your children chew food completely before swallowing. Children should be seated when eating, because running, walking, playing or lying down with food in their mouths can increase the risk of choking.
4. Be aware of older children’s behaviors.
Often, choking incidents happen when older children give a dangerous toy or food to younger child or sibling. Keeping choking hazards out of reach and supervising the actions of older children can help prevent a choking incident.
More information on choking hazards and prevention tips can be found on our website, and check out our short video on choking prevention.
Jonathan Grischkan, MD, is a member of the Department of Otolaryngology at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and is an assistant professor of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery at The Ohio State University College of Medicine. Dr. Grischkan’s clinical and research interests primarily focus on problems relating to cleft lip and palate, vascular lesions, craniofacial disorders, mandibular hypoplasia, airway obstruction, sleep apnea and all aspects of pediatric otolaryngology and facial reconstructive surgery.
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