Choking Cautions

by Carden Johnston, M.D.

Choking Cautions

One child dies from choking on food every five days in the U.S. (two-thirds are under 1 year of age) and more than 10,000 children are taken to hospital emergency rooms for related injuries every year. Choking occurs when food or small objects get caught in the throat or block the airway, preventing oxygen from traveling to the lungs and the brain. After more than four minutes without oxygen, brain damage or even death may occur. These are scary statistics, and I share them with you only to stress how important it is to take steps to prevent your baby from choking. Here’s what you can do:

? Play it safe. Once your baby starts to make the transition to solid foods, you can reduce his chances of choking by cutting his food into pieces no larger than a half inch and by teaching him to chew his food well. Always supervise snacks and meals and, once he starts moving around, insist that he eat at the table or in his high chair. Never let him run, walk, play, or lie down with food in his mouth. Finally, do not serve him the following foods until he turns at least 4: hot dogs; peanuts (as well as other nuts and seeds); whole grapes; hard, round candy; popcorn; chunks of peanut butter; and raw carrots.

? Childproof your home. Even before your baby begins to crawl, get down on his level and look for things he might discover and put in his mouth. Common household items that should be kept away from infants and young children include latex balloons, coins, marbles, toys with small parts, toys that can be compressed to fit entirely into a child’s mouth, small balls (less than 1 ¾ inches in diameter), pen or marker caps, and button-type batteries.

Remember to check below furniture and between and under cushions for these small items. If you have older children, pay extra attention to their toys, and be sure your baby can’t get into them. And watch your older children  — many choking incidents occur when big brothers or sisters give dangerous foods, toys, or other objects to their younger siblings.

? Choose toys wisely. Follow the age recommendations on toy packages. Age guidelines reflect the safety of a toy based on any possible choking hazard as well as the child’s physical and mental abilities at various ages.

? Be prepared. In addition to creating a safe environment for your baby, it’s important to know what to do in an emergency. Classes in first aid, CPR, and emergency prevention are offered regularly by the American Red Cross and the American Heart Association. Posting a first-aid chart in your home can help you remember the skills you learn in class. The American Academy of Pediatrics brochure Choking Prevention and First Aid for Infants and Children, and, of course, your pediatrician are helpful resources as well.