Parents have been all choked-up asking me questions about what they can do to prevent their child from choking on something. Well, let me see if I can air-out some information on this topic.
Choking is one of the leading causes of unintentional injury or death in children under one and the danger remains serious until age 5. Most commonly, small parts from toys, coins, and food are the culprits. In the food category hot dogs, grapes, raw carrots, nuts, raisins or hard and gummy candy are most likely to cause a choking episode.
Recently the American Academy of Pediatrics published a policy statement on prevention of choking, and while parents play an important role, so do manufacturers of toys and foods, teachers, and child care workers. For example, the policy calls for warning labels on foods and toys that pose a high choking risk.
The policy also recommends a national food-related choking incident reporting system, so we can all be made aware of foods that pose a hazard to children. When these are identified, food manufacturers should redesign how foods are made to prevent choking risk. Finally CPR and choking first- aid should be taught to all parents, teachers, and child care providers.
In addition to knowing about this policy and supporting it, parents can also do some other things to prevent choking:
- Supervise mealtime for your infant and toddler and always encourage your child to chew thoroughly.
- Don’t give infants and toddlers hard, smooth foods like peanuts or raw vegetables that require chewing with a grinding motion since children have difficulty doing this until age 4, and they may try to swallow the food whole.
- Don’t give your child round, firm foods either, like hot dogs and carrot sticks, unless they are chopped into small pieces that are no larger than ½ inch across. Cooking vegetables to soften them is a good practice.
- Don’t let your child eat while playing or running, and teach your children to chew and swallow before talking and laughing.
- Pick up anything off the floor that could be dangerous to swallow such as pins, pen caps and batteries. Don’t forget that latex balloons can burst and be sucked back into a child’s mouth, so consider using mylar balloons at parties and events if young children are around.
- Keep toys with small parts out of reach from infants and toddlers.
- Keep small button-type batteries away from children since they not only cause choking but also damage the lining of the digestive tract if they are ingested.
Hopefully, tips like this will be food for thought, and not for choking, the next time you want to prevent your child from experiencing a choking episode.
Lewis First, M.D., is chief of Pediatrics at Vermont Children’s Hospital at the University of Vermont Medical Center and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and on WCAX-TV Channel 3. Visit the First with Kids video archives at http://www.uvmhealth.org/firstwithkids