Choking on small objects such as household items, toys, and food is a leading cause of death in infants and toddlers, accounting for 75% of deaths in children under the age of three years.
Small Children Face Choking Hazards
In the United States, more than 12,000 children end up in hospital emergency rooms every year due to choking hazards. For children under the age of 5, choking is the fourth leading cause of unintentional death. Because a child’s trachea or breathing tube is about the diameter of a drinking straw, infants and toddlers face higher risks of choking on small items that are put into their mouths.
Infants and toddlers are notorious for putting things in their mouths. It’s their way of exploring new surroundings and learning new visual and motor skills. Unfortunately, small children don’t have good reasoning skills, so they don’t understand the risk of choking to death on small objects put in their mouths. In most cases, children are protected from choking by a gag reflex, but they are not always capable of removing the choking hazard without help from an adult. Parents must exercise diligent supervision around infants and small children to prevent life-threatening choking hazards. A personal injury lawyer sees many cases of children’s injuries and fatalities that may have been prevented with more proactive parenting and close supervision.
Pediatricians warn that choking hazards are strongly linked to food and toys. According to the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, toddlers put toys in their mouths an average of 20 times an hour. Broken, damaged, or defective toys are especially dangerous because parts can break off and block a child’s airway if swallowed. Adult supervision is essential to prevent choking hazards in small children.
Common Choking Hazards
For infants and small children, the leading cause of choking death is food, followed by toys and household items. Since choking on food is very dangerous for small children, adults must pay close attention to food size, shape, and textures that can contribute to choking problems during meals. Common food choking hazards include:
- Whole grapes, cherries, blueberries, and fruits with skin
- Raw vegetables like carrots, cauliflower, and broccoli
- Nuts, seeds, and dried fruit
- Snack foods like chips, crackers, popcorn, and pretzels
- Peanut butter, especially with soft white bread
- Hot dogs, sausages, meats, and fish with bones
Other foods that may cause choking hazards include foods that clump, foods with dry or hard textures, and slippery or sticky foods like ice cubes and cheese. Small children love candy and sweets, but many hard candies and sticky sweets pose serious choking hazards. Lollipops, soft caramel chews, taffy, gumdrops, jelly beans, marshmallows, and gum should not be given to toddlers.
A personal injury lawyer sees many children’s injuries caused by toys, especially toys with small, movable, or detachable parts. Toys that are broken or damaged should be thrown away because small pieces can break off and lodge in a child’s airway.
For children under 8 years old, latex balloons are a leading cause of choking deaths. If a child tries to blow up a latex balloon, he or she can inhale pieces of the balloon. Latex is dangerous because it’s a smooth material that can conform to the child’s throat if swallowed, blocking the airway and making breathing impossible. Small children should not be allowed to play with latex balloons.
When small children have older siblings, toys like balls, crayons, game pieces, and stuffed animals can be a problem. Toddlers love to explore their surroundings, so toys found in a sibling’s room may be enticing to play with. An older sibling may not be aware that a nerf ball, loose marbles, a pack of crayons, stuffed animals on the bed, or stuffing from a beanbag chair can be a deadly choking hazard for his or her little brother or sister.
Parents put childproof locks on doors and cabinets for a good reason. A variety of household items stored around the home can be serious choking hazards to small children. Dangerous household items include:
- Button batteries
- Thumbtacks and gem clips
- Rubber bands
- Pen and marker caps
- Cleaning supplies
The Academy of Pediatrics warns of choking hazards associated with button batteries used in many electronic devices, clocks, and toys. When ingested, small lithium cell batteries (button batteries) can cause severe tissue damage and death within just two hours. Button batteries are a leading cause of internal injuries to children seen by a personal injury lawyer. Even old, dead batteries can generate enough electrical current to cause serious burns and internal organ damage to a small child. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between 1997 and 2010 more than 40,000 children under age 13 went to hospital emergency rooms for battery-related injuries, and 72% were children age 4 or younger.