September 2, 2011

Keep Kids Safe… Prevent Choking

Doyle,-Rondi-NEW-colorBy Rondi Doyle
Director of Community Relations
Child Abuse Council

Choking is one of the leading causes of accidental death among young children and, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the most common cause of accidental death in children under age one.

By avoiding foods that cause choking, keeping common household objects from a child’s reach, and knowing what to do should a child start to choke, you can guard against a choking accident.

More than 2,800 people die each year from choking; many of them are children. According to one study, nearly two-thirds of the children who choked to death during a 20-year period were three years old or younger. The majority of choking deaths are caused by toys and household items. One study found that nearly 70 percent of choking deaths among children age three and under were caused by toys and other products made for children. According to CDC, balloons account for seven to 10 deaths a year. And the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has received reports of five deaths from bean bag chairs, resulting from children choking on the small foam pellets inside. The most common cause of nonfatal choking incidents is food. In one study, nearly 70 percent of choking cases presented in the emergency department were caused by foods such as hotdogs, nuts, and vegetable and fruit pieces.

The American Red Cross says that the most common culprits for choking in children under four years include:
Nuts (especially peanuts)
Hard candies
Raw vegetables
Deflated balloon pieces
Small toys and removable or loose toy parts
Small circular pieces of hot dogs

This list can be puzzling for parents and grandparents who see their 2 or 3–year-old handling food and feeding more and more efficiently, but until children reach the age of about four or five, they haven’t mastered the art of chewing and grinding that is necessary to eat small, hard, smooth foods such as peanuts (AAP recommends that children under age seven not be given peanuts) or grapes.

Symptoms of foreign objects stuck in throat or esophagus are gasping, gagging, turning blue. In the event your child or grandchild does start to choke, don’t panic. If your child is distressed, but can cough, speak, or breathe, don’t interfere. This is the natural way to remove an object that’s obstructing their airways. But if your child makes the international distress sign for choking, putting both hands to the throat, or if your infant turns from bright red to blue you must ask someone to call 911 while you administer CPR. Children over age 1 receive the Heimlich maneuver (or a modified Heimlich if the child is small.)

Vigilance is key. Don’t leave babies alone to eat, or young children to eat or drink. Babies should always be held while being fed. Don’t let your kids eat while running and playing. Don’t let children of any age suck hard candy or eat anything while lying down.

For more information about the Child Abuse Council’s prevention and education programs, you can visit us at

Rondi Doyle is Director of Community Relations at the Child Abuse Council. She can be reached at (309) 786-1466 or