As curious young children explore their environment, they put food and other objects in their mouths that can stick in their windpipe (trachea) and make it difficult or impossible for them to breathe. Choking sends thousands of infants and toddlers to emergency rooms each year.
The American Academy of Pediatrics and other agencies, such as the Consumer Product Safety Commission, have worked for years to warn parents and child caregivers and to improve the safety of toys and products.
Before age 4, children aren't able to grind their food into small pieces. Protect your child by creating a safe eating environment and avoiding certain foods until your child is age 4.
Supervise your child. Don't leave your child alone while he or she is eating.
Sit your child upright in a high chair.
Discourage eating and talking at the same time.
Cut your child's food into small pieces until his or her molars come in.
Stop your child from running with food in his or her mouth.
Do not allow a child younger than age 4 to have these foods:
Nuts and seeds
Chunks of peanut butter
Chunks of meat or cheese
Popcorn, pretzels, potato chips, corn chips, and similar snack foods
Hard, gooey, or sticky candy
Raw vegetables, especially hard ones
If hot dogs are the only food you have, remove the tough skin and cut the meat into small pieces.
Although food is the most common cause of choking in small children, other objects are also a threat. Keep small household items and toys with small removable parts out of toddlers' reach. Be sure to remove common offenders, such as uninflated or broken balloons, coins, marbles, tiny balls, pen caps, button-type batteries, and pins. Balloons are the toys most commonly involved in fatal choking accidents. If a child bites on an inflated latex balloon, it can pop, enter the lungs, and choke the child. Broken pieces of a balloon can also be dangerous if a young child picks one up and puts it in his or her mouth.
Choking can occur even if you take precautions. If your child has a forceful cough and is crying or vocal, let the child get the food or object out. If your child can't make a sound, have someone call 911 or your local emergency number, while you do the Heimlich maneuver. Learn the version that's right for your child's age. The American Heart Association provides standard procedures for choking victims of all ages. Once the food or object comes out, take your child to the health care provider. A piece of the object may remain in the lung; only a health care provider can tell if your child is OK.