Some parents seem to be unaware of some very important choking hazards for children, especially infants and young children. Children are more susceptible to choking than adults are because their airway is much smaller than that of an adult. Their muscles are also not fully developed which can make it more difficult for them to swallow or to expel a foreign object than it would be for an adult. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics two thirds of choking victims are infants younger than one year of age. Most children who choke to death are under the age of five years. The Centers for Disease Control statistics state that each year 17,000 infants and children are treated for choking related incidents and more than 80 percent of those children are four years old and younger. Here are a few tips that can help you protect your child.
Food items that can cause choking in children, especially children under four include any kinds of nuts or seeds, popcorn, snack chips or puffs, pretzels, raw carrots, raisins, and other small dried fruit like cranberries, blueberries, or cherries. Some other food items to watch for are whole grapes, round hotdogs (slice them lengthwise and then in half), fresh or frozen blueberries, melon balls, olives, marshmallows, and large chunks of meat or poultry. Peanut butter should never be given to small children in chunks instead spread it thinly on a cracker. Hard candy and cough drops, chewing gum, jelly beans, gum drops, and gummy bears should also not be given to small children. Children should be watched very carefully when given raw foods like apples, pears, and carrots and these should be cut into small pieces. You should not give small children stringy foods like celery or asparagus and some beans. Another item to watch out for is white bread. We have all had white bread stick to the roof of our mouths, and the same thing can happen to the airway of a small child. Typically the more whole grains found in your bread the less likely it is to glob up in the mouth or throat. Any round, firm food or slippery food items can potentially cause a small child to choke. Children four and under are particularly at risk for choking while eating. Prevention for this is to supervise children at meal times and have them sit down while they are eating. Teach your child to chew their food thoroughly before swallowing.
Food items are not the only potential choking hazards for young children. Small children can also choke on pens and marker caps, marbles, rings, coins, latex balloons or gloves, small-button type batteries (like for watches or hearing aids), and medicine syringes. Some places to look for potential choking hazards are under furniture and especially in between furniture cushions. You should also check under car seats and backs. Children should never be allowed to play with plastic bags, as this is a potential choking and suffocation hazard.
Some other things to be mindful of are the age appropriateness of toys for your children. Toys for older children tend to have small parts and pieces that a smaller child could choke on. If you have both older and younger children make sure that the older children pick-up all the pieces from toys and games and place them out of the reach of younger brothers and sisters. Be sure to check your clothing as well as your kids for loose buttons or snaps, as these can also be a potential choking hazard.
All parents and caregivers need to attend a CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation) course. This is something that with just a few hours of your time could save the life of your child or someone else. Four minutes without oxygen and parts of the brain start to die causing permanent brain damage. Children who are actively coughing should be watched carefully to make sure that they cough up the foreign object and that their airways do not become blocked. Symptoms of a blocked airway in a conscious child may include some of the following: unable to speak, cry, or cough, purple or blue face from too little oxygen, grabbing or clawing at their throat, or labored breathing that is accompanied by a high pitched wheezing sound or a weak cough. If your child is coughing forcefully they are NOT choking. One must have air in order to cough. Watch your child carefully to make sure that the object is either swallowed or expelled.
The best way to prevent disaster is to be prepared for it. Familiarize yourself with potential choking hazards and attend a class to teach you what to do if an emergency arises. Most hospitals and community health centers offer free or nominal charge classes to teach CPR and first aid.