As a mom, my children’s safety, health, and happiness are of upmost importance. Over the course of the last couple of years since my daughter started eating solids, I have experienced a few “scary moments” where I thought my daughter was choking. It is only a matter of seconds (even though it feels like forever) when everything is in slow motion and is taking an eternity when you hear your child gasp for air or try and cough out a piece of food. In fact, it happened just last week while eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. As a parent you try to do everything right by buying dissolvable foods, cutting up food in tiny pieces, cooking everything until it is soft, and only feeding your child age appropriate items. Unfortunately, sometimes even if you try to do everything right, there is still a risk. It is a terrifying and helpless feeling when you think your child is choking.
Did you know that choking is the 4th leading cause of accidental death in children under the age of 5? According to the New York State Department of Health, this is the scary truth. The American Academy of Pediatrics reported that one child dies every five days due to choking on food. The Consumer Product Safety Commissions reported that roughly 15 choking deaths are recorded each year in children under the age of 3. The average age for a child treated for choking is 4 ½ years old.
According to HealthyChildren.org, the official website of the American Academy of Pediatrics, any type of food that needs to be chewed in a grinding motion should be off limits to children under the age of 4. Young children may try to swallow these types of food whole since they do not usually master more sophisticated chewing abilities until the age of 7.
I know these statistics are frightening and hard to read, but knowledge is power and you have the power to try and prevent your child from choking. Here are the top 6 ways to help prevent choking:
- Make sure not to leave your child unattended when they are eating
- Make sure your child only eats while sitting up (and in one place and not running around)
- Make sure not to feed certain foods to your child before a certain age (even if you already fed it to them once and they were ok, doesn’t mean you will be as lucky the next time)
- Make sure to cut your child’s food into small pieces, even after you think they are old enough to eat certain foods whole
- Make sure to not give children under the age of 3 small toys like marbles, coins, balloons, and small balls
- Make sure you learn the Heimlich Maneuver – Visit redcross.org to take a class. (did you know that every June 1 is National Heimlich Maneuver day?)
- Make sure to avoid rub-on teething medication, as it can numb the throat and interfere with swallowing
- Make sure not to feed your child food in the car while you are driving
Below are the top 8 food choking hazards and ways to help prevent choking for each of them. Sometimes the best prevention is to avoid giving that food to your child altogether until they are at least between the ages of 4-7, depending on the food.
- Hot Dogs – Hot dogs are a staple in our house and one of my daughter’s favorite foods. Sadly, hot dogs are the #1 food related choking hazard in children under the age of 3 and are responsible for most choking deaths in children, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Due to the size and consistency, the hot dog can block a child’s airway. If a piece of hot dog gets stuck in the airway, it completely blocks it. This is the case for sausages, too. PREVENTION: Cut the hot dog lengthwise in half and then cut into small, manageable irregular pieces that are not shaped perfectly like circles or crescent moons.
- Nuts – Due to the size, shape, and consistency of nuts, it is recommended that serving any type of nut to your child should be avoided until at least 5 years old. According to ahealthierwei.com, Dr. Wei said “once aspirated into the airway, nuts are perhaps the worst items for us to remove because every minute it’s in the airway, it absorbs the natural secretions from the body and the oils from the nuts are released, causing more inflammation. By the time we get to the operating room and I am trying to get it out, the nut half crumbles and it’s a nightmare to get out every tiny piece. If we don’t remove it all, pneumonia is very likely.” PREVENTION: It is best not to feed your child nuts of any kind until they are at least 5 years old, but please check with your family doctor and or pediatrician.
- Raw Fruits & Vegetables – Any hard, raw fruit or vegetable is a choking hazard. (Carrots) PREVENTION: Shred the carrots or served them cooked so they are soft and cut them length wise into thin strips. (Apples)– PREVENTION: Cut just the apple and not the core into very small, manageable pieces or cook until the apple is soft and then cut into small pieces. (Edamame) – the texture and shape could get block a child’s airway and suffocate them. It is best to avoid giving these to your little one altogether. (Grapes)– Grapes are round and hard and the perfect shape to block a child’s airway. PREVENTION: Cut grapes in half, if not quartered, before serving them to your child. It is recommends that seeds be removed from the grapes before they are given to a child or to make it easier, buy seedless grapes so your child doesn’t choke on the seeds.
- Peanut Butter – My daughter’s favorite meal is peanut butter and jelly. She asks for it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Unfortunately, if you serve too much peanut butter at once, it can be difficult for your little one to swallow. PREVENTION: Spread the peanut butter thinly before serving to your child and give them some water to drink with their peanut butter snack!
- Marshmallows – I was honestly surprised about this one. They are so soft it doesn’t seem like a hazard, but due to the shape and size, marshmallows can easily get stuck in your child’s throat. PREVENTION: Wait until your child is older before letting them eat marshmallows.
- Gum and Hard Candy – This one is pretty obvious. Children can easily inhale candy and gum and or choke on them when trying to eat them whole. Besides the excessive sugar and potential damage to your child’s health, and teeth, gum and hard candies are not recommended for young children for more reasons than choking. Even gummy fruit candies can cause a potential choking hazard. PREVENTION: Avoid altogether!
- Popcorn – Popcorn is an all time favorite at movies, amusement parks, and at home for adults and children alike. However, due to the dryness, size, and shape of popcorn, it is best to completely avoid it until your child is older. Furthermore, the hulls can latch onto the esophagus; making it more difficult to remove it if a piece gets stuck in a child’s throat. Many sources recommend avoiding popcorn until at least the age of 4 or 5. Plus unpopped kernals are small, round, and hard and could get easily get stuck in a child’s airway. PREVENTION: Besides avoiding it until your child is of a certain age, try an alternative like puffed corn snacks that look like popcorn but are safer to eat.
- Non-food items – Children don’t only choke on food. Toys with small parts must also be avoided. We’ve all seen the warning labels on pretty much every toy on the shelves these days that there are small pieces and the toy is only appropriate for children over the age of 3. Other toys to be avoided include marbles, coins, balloons, and small balls, buttons, small batteries, refrigerator magnets, and pet food.
**If you have any questions about choking, please ask your family doctor or pediatrician. The information in this blog was taken from multiple resources and from personal research on the topic. I am not a medical doctor and the information in this blog is intended to help other parents be educated on the top choking hazards and prevention techniques**