It is reported that around 2,600 choking accidents in the UK each year involve children under four years of age. That’s over 7 children per day, everyday. It is likely that this statistic is considerably lower than factual incidents due to the amount of choking incidents that go unreported. Children choke on small toys and on food that is too big and too difficult dislodge. A study in the journal of the American Medical Association 30 years ago concluded a child every five to six days chokes to death on a food. This study has not been repeated but Smith, who conducted the study says says “I have no reason to think those numbers have changed because there haven’t been major changes in surveillance or protection.” Here is our guide on the food you should avoid giving your children and the things you can do to make them a little safer if you are going to give them.
Peanuts are often avoided anyway due to the risk of an allergic reaction, however, they also pose a choking risk; it is possible they may block the lower airway so should be completely avoided.
According to the international chewing gum association, Chewing gum can be a choking hazard. The gum base, which is a component of the gum that makes it stretchy and tough, is more difficult to swallow than ordinary foods. Older children should always spit gum out to prevent choking and also prevent a build up of gum in the rectum (if large amounts have been swallowed).
Popped, half popped or not popped at all, popcorn is a choking hazard and should be avoided. It doesn’t dissolve, is jagged in shape and is hard to dislodge if stuck, your child’s trachea (windpipe) is the size of a drinking straw – imagine trying to suck air through a straw with a piece of popcorn wedged on the end if it. Due to popcorn being so lightweight, there is also a risk that it can be ‘sucked’ down accidentally by your child, this could result in choking (as stated) or the popcorn sitting on one of your child’s lungs (this is likely to cause an infection if not medically removed).
For the same reasons as popcorn; chips are hard and light so difficult to dislodge and easily swallowed accidentally (before chewing).
Round slices of hotdogs or sausages
Whether cut into a round shape or eating whole, the shape forms a perfect ‘plug’ over the trachea and is very difficult to remove. If you are giving your child sausages and hotdogs you should always cut them length ways as well as chop long ways.
Carrot sticks or baby carrots
All vegetables should be steamed (preferably) or boiled, grated or chopped into thin matchstick shapes before giving to your child. This makes them softer, easier to chew, easier to cough up if swallowed accidentally and less likely to cause a choking incident.
Tough meat and meat with gristle and bone
It is heavy and can easily slip to the back of your child’s throat. You should remove all fat, gristle and bones and chop into small pieces. You can further mitigate the risk by slow cooking, mincing or shredding.
An 8 year study between 2001 and 2009 reported more than 16,100 children aged 14 and younger visited the A&E because they were choking on hard candy. It is the number one food for causing choking incidents in children and should be completely avoided.
Don’t be fooled by their nutritional value. Grapes are a huge choking risk. Whole grapes should be completely avoided for as long as you can and cut up grapes (you should cut into quarters as a minimum) only given once you are confident your child can sit up properly and chew foods well. Babies should not be given grapes at all ; even when they are cut up they can still result in a choking episode if not chewed properly.
Avoid cherry tomatoes as you would grapes. The size and texture are similar and the outcome of not chewing (or not being being able to chew) properly will be the same.
Large pieces of raw fruits and vegetables
Raw fruit and vegetables can be very hard and difficult for your child to chew, particularly if his/her molars (back teeth) haven’t cone through yet. You could cook them slightly to soften them or grate them (such as carrots and apples). Soft pears and bananas don’t need to be avoided but you should, of course, never leave your child unsupervised when eating.
Every precaution should be taken to avoid choking episodes, if you are using the baby led weaning technique you should still take the above precautions as these are the highest risk foods. There is never a substitute for supervising your child when eating and it is recommended you learn basic first aid for children. Encourage your child to sit up whilst eating and never allow them to play as this will also increase the risk. If you have any questions, please ask.