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Child Choking and Prevention

Published December 05, 2007        by Nicole

Choking is the fourth most common cause of accidental death in children. However, for children under one year, it is the most common cause, ranking above even car accidents. In one recent year alone, 440 infants under a year old choked to death.

Children choke easily. Babies put everything they come upon into their mouths. It is a way of exploring. In your baby’s opinion, everything must be tasted as well as looked at and touched. Unfortunately, infants are not well coordinated, and small pieces can work their way too far back into the mouth and then get stuck.

If something gets stuck, one of two things can happen. If the object is the right size, it can completely close off the child’s airway, causing him to be unable to speak or breathe. Unless removed quickly, the object can cause brain damage from lack of oxygen, or even death. If the object was sucked into one of the smaller airways, the child will cough, wheeze, and have trouble breathing. Often such objects must be removed surgically.

Children can choke on anything small enough. Before disposable diapers, safety pins were a major hazard. Now, pieces of toys, balloons [even uninflated ones], and coins are frequent dangers. Some foods, such as hot dogs, grapes, nuts, and hard candies, as well as vitamins and baby aspirin tablets, can cause choking.

The federal government has taken action to prevent pieces of toys from becoming the objects responsible for choking. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has mandatory safety standards, and the Toy Manufacturers of America has voluntary product standards regulating toys with small parts.

Since children choke on many things besides toys, it is your obligation to watch what your child puts in his mouth and to keep dangerous things away.

Preventing Choking

  • Examine your baby's toys, baby teddy bears and clothing for parts that could be easily pulled off and swallowed.
  • Don’t allow your baby to play with coins, balloons, or other items that could easily be swallowed.
  • Cut or bite your toddler’s food into bite sized pieces.
  • Avoid giving a toddler such hard, smooth foods as nuts, carrots, and hard candy. Also avoid foods that may become lodged in your child’s throat, such as hotdogs, potato chips, and popcorn.
  • Do not give chewable pills or vitamins to children under the age of three.
  • Teach your child to chew thoroughly, and discourage talking while chewing.
  • If your child does choke, don’t put your fingers in her mouth- you may push the object further in.
  • Learn the Heimlich maneuver, or the back-blow/chest-thrust maneuver recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.