Prevent a Child from Choking Alert

Putting things in their mouths is one of the ways that babies and small children explore the world. Anything that fits in their mouths can be a clear and present danger. Choking is usually caused by food, toys, coins and other small objects that can easily lodge in a child's small airway.

At a time when the hospital emergency rooms around the country are overwhelmed with patients and waits lasting hours are not unusual, this is no time to bring a choking child to an emergency room. To help prevent a child from choking, please read Choking in children, and visit Focus On First Aid.

Barbara K. Hecht, Ph.D.
Frederick Hecht, M.D.
Medical Editors,

Physical and developmental factors put children at risk for choking. Children who choke run the risk of death, permanent brain damage caused by lack of oxygen, or other complications associated with airway blockage. In 2001, thousands of children were treated in U.S. emergency departments for nonfatal choking episodes.

Quick Facts

  • In 2000, 160 children ages 14 years or younger died from an obstruction of the respiratory tract due to inhaled or ingested foreign bodies. Of these, 41% were caused by food items and 59% by nonfood objects (CDC, unpublished data).

  • For every choking-related death, there are more than 100 visits to U.S. emergency departments. In 2001, an estimated 17,537 children 14 years or younger were treated in U.S. emergency departments for choking episodes.

    • Sixty percent of nonfatal choking episodes treated in emergency departments were associated with food items; 31% were associated with nonfood objects including coins; and in 9% of the episodes the substance was unknown or unrecorded. yes">

    • Candy was associated with 19% of all choking-related emergency department visits by children ages 14 years or younger; 65% were related to hard candy; and 12.5% were related to other specified types of candy (chocolate candy, gummy bears, gum, etc.). The type of candy was not specified in the remaining 22.5% of the cases. Candy was associated with 5% of all choking-related visits for infants less than one year of age; 25% of visits for children ages 1 to 4 years; and 28% of visits for children ages 5 to 14 years.

    • Coins were involved in 18% of all choking-related emergency department visits for children ages 1 to 4 years.

    • In 2001, 10.5% of children treated in the emergency department for choking episodes were admitted to the hospital or transferred to a facility with a higher level of care

Injury Prevention Tips for Parents and Children

Every child is at risk of choking. To reduce this risk, parents and caregivers can;

  • keep a watchful eye on their children when eating and playing;
  • keep dangerous toys, foods, and household items out of reach; and
  • learn how to provide early treatment for children who are choking.

For even more information, please visit our Prevention Center, and Focus On Healthy Kids!

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Last Editorial Review: 10/25/2002