Every parent worries about the possibility of being faced with a choking child. But what constitutes a choking hazard, and what can you do to protect your child against choking?
What is a choking hazard?
A choking hazard is any object that could be caught in a child’s throat blocking their airway and making it difficult or impossible to breathe. Choking is dangerous in young children, primarily because their small airways are easily obstructed. It takes time for babies to master the ability to chew and swallow food, and babies might not be able to cough forcefully enough to dislodge an airway obstruction.
Sometimes health conditions increase the risk of choking as well. Children who have swallowing disorders, neuromuscular disorders, developmental delays and traumatic brain injury, for example, have a higher risk of choking than do other children.
The most common cause of nonfatal choking incidents is food. Many children do not chew their food well so they try to swallow it whole.
Avoid giving babies and toddlers the following foods:
- Hot dogs/sausages
- Raw carrots
- Grapes (and similar shaped fruit and vegetables, e.g., cherry tomatoes, soft fruits)
- Whole nuts and seeds
- Chunky peanut butter*
- Chewing gum
- Boiled sweets
* There is evidence that early exposure of infants to peanut butter dramatically reduces peanut allergy rates going forward into childhood and adulthood. For this reason we recommend some exposure to smooth peanut butter in infancy.
Follow these safe eating tips to protect your child from the hazards of choking on food.
- Wait until your baby is at least 4 months old to introduce pureed solid foods.
- If bottle feeding, always hold your baby in your arms and hold the bottle in your hand – never prop or lean the bottle against a pillow or another support.
- Closely supervise toddlers and young children at mealtimes.
- Cut food into pieces no larger than one half-inch; this will make sure that if your child swallows their food whole, it won’t get stuck in their throat.
- Insist children remain seated while eating and never talk or laugh while food is in their mouth
- Show children how to chew their food slowly and thoroughly.
- Encourage sips in between bites to make sure your child is chewing and swallowing, and not packing her mouth with food that may cause choking.
- Cut firm or round food into thin strips or small pieces that can't become lodged in a child's airway.
- Don't give children popcorn, chewing gum, hard or sticky sweets, or marshmallows until they're at least 4 years of age.
- Don't let your children eat in the car while you are driving.
- Never let children eat in bed.
Choking on Toys/Household Items
From the time children start picking up things with their fingers until the age of 4 or 5, you'll need to be vigilant about choking hazards. Children under 4 are the most likely to choke on something. This is partly because they tend to explore their world by putting things in their mouth. When they begin to crawl, small objects that you normally wouldn’t notice are dangers for them to choke on.
These common household choke hazards should never be left within the reach of your child:
- Round watch batteries
- Pen or marker caps
- Small toys and bits of toys
- Plastic bottle caps
- Small jewellery items
- Elastic bands, incl decorative/jewellery bands eg, loom bands
- Small batteries, including "button batteries"
Follow these tips to safe proof your home from choking hazards
- Before they begin to crawl, get down to your child’s level and look for things that could be picked up.
- Check in and under furniture and cushions to ensure there are no hidden hazards.
- Make sure children’s toys are always safely put away.
- Always follow the age limit specified on toy packages.
- Never allow your child to play with a toy intended for an older child.
- Store toys for younger children separate from those for older children.
This content was developed from HSE and St John Ambulance sources and is adapted for Briarhill Family Practice by Briarhill Family Practice GPs.
Date Last Reviewed: 23/11/2017