Choking: Prevention

Choking can be life-threatening. Choking on foods or other objects kills as many children each year as accidental poisonings. Follow these guidelines to help prevent your child from choking.

  • Do not give hard foods to children less than 4 years old. Hard foods that could be sucked into the lungs when a child takes a breath are nuts, sunflower seeds, orange seeds, cherry pits, watermelon seeds, gum, hard candies, popcorn, some corn chips, raw carrots, raw peas, and raw celery. Children under the age of 4 years don’t know which foods they should spit out. They also need more molar teeth to chew the other hard foods properly.
  • Chop up dangerous soft foods before you serve them. Soft foods that most commonly cause fatal choking by completely blocking the windpipe are hot dogs, sausage, gummy candy, large pieces of any meat, grapes, and caramels (especially if a child is in a hurry).
  • Warn babysitters and older siblings not to share these dangerous hard and soft foods with small children.
  • Teach your child to chew all foods thoroughly before swallowing them.
  • Don’t allow your child to fill his cheeks with food like a chipmunk.
  • Clean up right away after parties. An especially dangerous time is the morning after parties, when a toddler may find dangerous foods on the floor.
  • Warn your child never to chew or suck on pieces of rubber balloons. Rubber balloons are the leading cause of choking deaths resulting from objects other than foods. Most incidents occur when a child suddenly inhales a deflated balloon he has been chewing on. Even teenagers have died from inhaling a deflated balloon. Chewing on an inflated balloon is also dangerous because the balloon could burst. Mylar helium balloons are safer than rubber balloons, but rubber balloons are fine when they are used with supervision.
  • Don’t give a young child a toy with small, detachable parts. If you do, in a few minutes you’ll find the missing part in the child’s mouth (unless he has already swallowed it).
  • Periodically check your child’s environment for small objects that your child could choke on (anything with a diameter less than 1.25 inch, or 3.2 cm). Ask older children to protect younger siblings by checking the carpet for coins or small pieces from toys or games.
  • Dispose of button batteries carefully.
  • Remind your child not to run or play sports with gum or other material in his mouth.
  • Keep a watchful eye on children who are eating and playing.
Written by Barton D. Schmitt, MD, author of “My Child Is Sick,” American Academy of Pediatrics Books.
Pediatric Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2007-05-03
Last reviewed: 2014-06-10
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 Barton D. Schmitt, MD. All rights reserved.

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