Children, especially those under the age of three, are quite vulnerable to airway obstruction injury because
they have small upper airways and have relative inexperience with chewing. They also have a tendency to place objects in their mouths. On average, infants account for approximately 64 percent of choking deaths among children ages 14 and under. Causes of choking or airway obstruction-injury deaths include suffocation by things such as pillows, choking on food or small objects, and strangulation from window blind and clothing strings. Anything children can place in their mouths can be dangerous. Taking the following steps will help protect children:
Parents should avoid giving children under age four any hard, smooth foods that may block or partially block their airway. These include all nuts, sunflower seeds, watermelon with seeds, cherries with pits, popcorn, hard candy, raw carrots, raw peas, and raw celery.
Certain soft foods, such as hot dogs, grapes, and link sausages, should be chopped into small pieces. These foods can cause choking because they are the right shape to block the windpipe.
When babies start to eat solid food, parents need to beware of foods such as raw apples or pears. Raw fruit is difficult for babies to chew properly because their teeth are just developing.
Children should sit still while eating and chew food thoroughly.
Children should not run, ride in the car, or play sports with gum, lollipops, or candy in their mouths.
Buttons, beads, and other small objects need to be stored safely out of children's reach.
Drawstrings should be removed from children's coats and sweatshirts. Also window blind cords that pose a risk for strangulation should be removed.
Parents should follow manufacturer's recommendations regarding toys and check toys frequently for loose or broken parts.
Older children should not to leave toys with small pieces or loose game parts where younger children can reach them.
A latex balloon should not be given to a child younger than age eight. Children can choke by inhaling the balloon or a portion of it into their windpipes.
Parents should obtain and use a "small parts tester," an inexpensive child safety device that shows if an object is small enough to fit in a child's mouth.
Deanna M. Swartout-Corbeil RN, Thomson Gale, Gale, Detroit,