Choking and Suffocation Prevention, Children Ages Birth to 19 Years

In New York State, suffocation (not getting enough air to breathe) is the leading cause of unintentional injury deaths for children under age one and the fourth leading cause of unintentional injury deaths for children ages one through four years. Suffocation injuries may be caused by such incidents as choking or strangulation. The majority of choking, suffocation, and strangulation incidents occur at home, while strangulation is the primary cause of playground deaths. Three out of five cases of infant suffocation occur in the sleeping environment, including cribs, beds, bunk beds, and co-sleeping (usually with parents).

Most choking incidents in younger children involve food. Children have small airways which are easily blocked. The size of a young child's trachea (windpipe) or breathing tube is approximately the size of a drinking straw in diameter. Imagine a piece of popcorn or hot dog being lodged in this small area. Children ages five to 19 may suffocate (not get enough air to breathe) from choking on food, drawstrings on clothing that could cause strangulation, plastic bags, balloons, toys and playground equipment.

The good news is that you, as a parent or caregiver, can play a major role in preventing choking and suffocation injuries.

Are there any laws that help protect children from choking and suffocation?

The Child Safety Protection Act bans the sale of any toy intended for use by children under age three that may pose a choking, aspiration (sucking in the object) or ingestion (swallowing) hazard.

Are there any organizations that help protect children from choking and suffocation?

The U. S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued voluntary guidelines for drawstrings on children's clothing to prevent strangulation and has banned the use of bean bag infant cushions that can pose a choking or suffocation risk.

What can I do to keep my child safe from choking and suffocation at home and at play?

The single most effective way to keep children from choking or being strangled and suffocated is adult supervision!

What can I do to keep my child safe from choking on toys?

Check for hazards such as latex balloons, toys that are small and have pieces that can come off, pacifiers (especially with strings), broken toys, age-appropriate toys, and ribbons or string.

What can I do to prevent my child from choking on food?

  • Supervise your child while he or she is eating. Your child should sit down while eating and there should be no rough playing.
  • Children should not eat when walking, riding in a car, or playing.
  • Cut food into small pieces and avoid foods that are hard to swallow, and chew. Foods such as grapes, popcorn, nuts, raw carrots and vegetables, hot dogs cut in coin shapes, hard foods, hard candy, cough drops, gum, and globs of peanut butter especially with white bread should be avoided.
  • Cook or steam vegetables to soften their texture, dice foods, and remove seeds and pits. Cut hot dogs lengthwise.
  • Offer plenty of liquids to children when eating, but solids and liquids should not be swallowed at the same time.
  • Model safe eating habits and chew food thoroughly.

What can I do to prevent my child from suffocating where my he/she sleeps?

  • Place your infant on his/her back in a crib and make sure the sheet and mattress fit tightly to avoid entrapment.
  • Make sure your child's crib is empty: remove all soft bedding, pillows, toys and stuffed animals from the crib.
  • Do not let your child sleep on a top bunk bed if he or she is under the age of six.
  • Do not let your young child sleep with parents or older siblings. Children can be rolled over on or caught between the mattress and wall.

What can I do to prevent my child from choking or being strangled and suffocated from objects in my home?

  • You can be sure that baby strollers, carriages, playpens and high chairs do not pose a risk of entrapment (getting caught) because of narrow openings.
  • Use cordless window coverings in all homes where children live or visit. If this is not possible, make sure drapery and blind cords are tied up high with no loops and move cribs away from windows. Free cord-retrofit kits are available from the Window Covering Safety Council.
  • Remove all Roman window shades and roll-up blinds from your home. On December 15th, 2009, all Roman shades were recalled by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
  • Be aware of (and keep out of your child's reach) items like jewelry, plastic bags, magnets, small objects, and electrical cords.

What should I know when choosing my child's clothing?

  • Remove drawstrings from young children's clothing.
  • Your child should not wear scarves.
  • Watch for small buttons, snaps or other clothing articles that could be loose and swallowed.

What should I do to keep my child safe while at play?

  • Make sure that playground equipment is in good working order and there are no loose parts that could be swallowed or narrow openings where your child could get caught.
  • Knowing how to perform CPR and/or the Heimlich Maneuver (abdominal thrusts) can help in an emergency. CPR and First Aid classes can be found in your area by visiting the American Red Cross.

Where can I find more information about preventing choking and suffocation?