Choking is the fourth leading cause of accidental death among infants and toddlers. In Canada, approximately 40% of all unintentional injuries involving infants and toddlers involve choking and suffocation. For every choking-related fatality, an estimated 110 children are brought to the hospital emergency departments. Current figures do not include the number of children requiring outpatient assessment and first aid treatment for significant choking accidents. In addition, choking has been associated with complications that include esophageal perforation and brain injury.
Children below 5 years of age are at greatest risk for choking injury and death because they love to explore their new found motor skills. Very young children would put anything inside their mouth instantly transforming household items, toys, foods and almost anything into choking hazards. However, many choking and suffocation related injuries and deaths can be prevented. Here are some helpful tips on how to prevent choking in children:
- Food is the most common cause of nonfatal choking in toddlers. Follow your healthcare practitioner’s instructions when introducing your baby to solid foods. Avoid foods that increase the risk of choking such as:
- nuts and seeds,
- large pieces of food such as whole hotdogs, whole grapes, and raw vegetables,
- spoonful of peanut butter, and
- candies and gums.
Cut foods into small, bite-sized pieces before serving to young children. Teach children to sit upright and calmly while eating.
- Do not leave young children unsupervised while eating and playing. Discourage older siblings from feeding their younger brothers and sisters.
- Read label of toys and children’s items to check for appropriateness for the age of your child. Normally, toys come with safety labels and minimum age requirements. Also, check regularly for toys that were recalled by the FDA due to risk for choking and strangulation.
- Keep small household objects (such as jewelry and coins) and toys with removable parts away from reach of young children. Anything that is small enough to fit through cardboard paper roll pose choking risks. Use foil balloons instead of latex balloons.
- Check the floor for possible choking hazards before letting the child play.
- Keep loose, small magnets from jewelry, toys or on the fridge away from children’s reach. These magnets are very dangerous especially when swallowed by a child. In case of swallowing, seek medical attention immediately.
- Remove or modify home items that can cause strangulation such as curtain rods and blind.
- Avoid children’s clothing with draw-strings. It is recommended that you choose clothes with safe closures such as elastic, snaps, buttons or Velcro. If clothing comes with drawstrings, remove drawstrings from the waists, hoods or bottoms of clothing.
- Check to ensure that buttons and decorative items are secured and fastened to the garments.
- Make sure that young children have a safe sleeping environment, with safe cribs or cradles. Make sure the sleeping environment is free of soft bedding that can cause suffocation such as pillows, stuffed toys, crib bumpers, and comforters.
Finally, parents and caregivers are highly encouraged to complete infant/child CPR and choking first aid courses, offered by the workplace approved and other organizations.