Kids' Choking Hazards May Go Unnoticed

Oct. 11, 2004 -- Parents may need a refresher course on items that could pose a choking hazard to children, according to new research.

Choking injures or kills many people every year, with young children being particularly vulnerable.

In 2000, choking caused 160 deaths in children younger than 14 years and more than 17,000 emergency medical evaluations, says Jennifer Adu-Frimpong, MD, FAAP, and colleagues from Emory University-Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.

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Choking is often preventable, especially if parents or caregivers know what to look for.

Given children's curiosity, there's a lot to monitor, with potential choking hazards including food, toy parts, and everyday items. While most parents and caregivers have some familiarity with choking hazards, some may overlook potentially unsafe items.

That's what Adu-Frimpong and colleagues found when they studied parents of children aged 1-3 years.

The researchers showed 10 common household objects to 34 parents, asking them to identify safe and unsafe items.

Eight objects were potential choking hazards (grapes, small hot dog, carrot, candy, balloon, pen, marble, and coin). Two other items (a cracker and a rubber duck) were considered safe.

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Of about 340 objects, the parents were wrong 18% of the time.

They improperly called 17% of choking hazards safe, with grapes being the most commonly misidentified unsafe item.

The parents also misclassified 24% of safe items.

Families need more education about choking hazards, say the researchers, who presented their findings at the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference and Exhibition in San Francisco.

Choking Hazard Safety Tips

While choking is a year-round problem, it may be helpful to review tips this month before children receive Halloween candies, holiday presents, and other items.

Here are some pointers for preventing choking in children younger than 4:

  • Carefully supervise young children during snacks and meals.
  • Don't feed your child while he or she is crying or breathing rapidly.
  • Discourage talking, laughing, or playing while a child has food or beverage in their mouth.
  • Seat children, especially toddlers, while eating.
  • Don't give children foods that may cause choking. These include hard, smooth, or chewy foods that must be chewed with a grinding motion or foods that are round and could easily get stuck in the throat.
  • Cut food into small, pea-sized bites.
  • Mash grapes, beans, or peas before serving.
  • Dice hot dogs and sausages before serving.
  • Avoid seeds, bones, and foods that can't be cut into smaller pieces (such as nuts, popcorn, and hard/ chewy candies).
  • Only serve peanut butter spread thinly on bread or crackers. A spoonful of peanut butter can block the windpipe.
  • Don't give kids small items that may cause choking, such as marbles or jacks.
  • Follow age guidelines when selecting toys for children.
  • The safest toys for small children are said to be at least 1.25 inches around or 2.25 inches long.

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