Household Safety: Preventing Choking
Putting things in their mouths is one of the ways that babies and small children explore their worlds. Choking is usually caused by food, toys, and other small objects that can easily lodge in a child’s small airway — anything that fits can be a danger.
Pay special attention to the following to protect your kids from choking:
- Encourage kids to sit when eating and to chew thoroughly. Teach them to chew and swallow their food before talking or laughing.
- Be especially vigilant during adult parties, when nuts and other foods might be easily accessible to small hands. Clean up promptly and carefully, and check the floor for dropped foods that can cause choking.
- Never let kids run, play sports, or ride in the car with gum, candy, or lollipops in their mouths.
- Be sure to read all manufacturers’ food labels carefully to determine choking risks.
- Don’t give kids younger than 4 years old any hard, smooth foods that can partially or completely block the windpipe, such as:
- nuts of any type
- sunflower seeds
- watermelon with seeds
- cherries with pits
- raw carrots, peas, and celery
- hard candy
- raw apples and pears
- Some soft foods also can cause choking and should be avoided:
- cheese cubes
- hot dogs
These soft foods, except caramels, can be served if they’re chopped into small pieces or peeled if they have skin. Spoonfuls of peanut butter and chewing gum also should be regarded as potential choking hazards.
Toys, Balloons, and Other Small Objects
- Get on your hands and knees and check the floors, under rugs, and within grabbing range (on shelves, in cushions, under sheets, etc.) for small parts or items that could pose a choking hazard, including:
- toys with small parts and doll accessories
- safety pins
- small office supplies (paperclips, tacks, etc.)
- marbles and small balls
- nails, bolts, and screws
- broken crayons
- jewelry (rings, earrings, pins, etc.)
- small caps for bottles, including chocolate syrup, pancake syrup, and soda (kids may try to lick the sweet drops out of the caps, which can become lodged in the airway)
- Always follow all manufacturers’ age recommendations when buying toys. Some toys have small parts that can cause choking, so heed all warnings on a toy’s packaging.
- Never buy vending-machine toys for small children; these toys do not have to meet safety regulations and often contain small parts.
- Make sure small refrigerator magnets are out of your child’s reach.
- Check toys frequently for loose or broken parts — for example, a stuffed animal’s loose eye or a broken plastic hinge.
- Warn older kids not to leave loose game parts or toys with small pieces in easy reach of younger siblings.
- Safely dispose of all batteries, especially button-cell batteries (like those used for watches). Encourage kids not to put pencils, crayons, or erasers in their mouths when coloring or drawing.
- Put away all breakable objects and those that are small enough to fit in small mouths.
If you’re expecting a baby or already have a child, it’s a good idea to:
- Learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and the Heimlich maneuver.
- Keep the following numbers near the phone (for yourself and caregivers):
- toll-free poison-control number: 1-800-222-1222
- doctor’s number
- parents’ work and cell phone numbers
- neighbor’s or nearby relative’s number (if you need someone to watch other kids in an emergency)
- Make a first-aid kit and keep emergency instructions inside.
- Install smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors.
Maintaining a Safe, Kid-Friendly Environment
To check your childproofing efforts, get down on your hands and knees in every room of your home to see things from a child’s perspective. Be aware of your child’s surroundings and what might be potentially dangerous.
Completely childproofing your home can be difficult. If you can’t childproof the entire house, you can shut the doors (and install doorknob covers) to any room a child shouldn’t enter to prevent wandering into places that haven’t been properly childproofed. For sliding doors, doorknob covers and childproof locks are also great for keeping little ones from leaving your home.
Of course, childproofing cannot replace adult supervision as the best way to help prevent kids from getting injured.
Whether you have a baby, toddler, or school-age child, your home should be a haven where your little one can explore safely. After all, touching, holding, climbing, and exploring are the activities that develop your child’s body and mind.
Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: August 2013