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Health Tips for Parents


Health Tips for Parents

2014 Issues

How can I prevent my child from choking?

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Choking is a serious hazard for young children

In fact, one child dies every five days as the result of a food-choking accident — it is the fourth leading cause of accidental death among children under age 5 — and more than 10,000 children visit emergency rooms each year due to choking on food.

Food, not toys, is the most common cause of choking in children up to 5 years of age. Most of these events, however, are preventable if parents and caregivers are aware of the high-risk foods that should not be given to children in this age range.

“Toys are labeled for safety, but if you go to the grocery store and buy baby carrots, which you think are healthy for your toddler, you may not realize they put your child at significant risk for choking,” says Nina Shapiro, MD, director of otolaryncology at Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA.


The diameter of a child’s airway is about the size of his or her pinky. High-risk foods can easily block airways and prevent breathing. Young children also have immature teeth and underdeveloped swallowing, which also puts them at risk for choking.

Fortunately, choking deaths are largely preventable. To help ensure children’s safety, never allow young children to eat unattended and only serve developmentally appropriate foods. Children should always eat sitting up and should not eat while running, playing or riding in a car.

Choking Infographic
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Not all high-risk foods should be avoided. Many high-risk foods are healthy for young children — as long as they are served in the right form.

Other precautions include:

  • Children should not eat while running, playing or riding in a car.
  • Vegetables should be cooked and cut into small pieces.
  • Cut hotdogs lengthwise and then widthwise, into the shape of small half-moons or quarter-moons.
  • Nut butters should be spread thinly onto crackers or bread.
  • Grapes should be peeled and then cut in half or quarters.

What to do when a child chokes

  • If a child is unable to breathe, call 911 and begin performing the Heimlich maneuver.
    If the child is standing, position yourself behind the child, wrap your arms around her waist, and give inward/upward thrusts in the mid-abdomen. Repeat this until the object is dislodged or the child begins to cough or cry. If the child is lying on the ground, kneel at the child’s feet. Place the heel of one hand between the belly button and the rib cage. Then, give inward/upward thrusts in the mid-abdomen to dislodge the object.
  • If the child cries, coughs or vomits, the Heimlich is not necessary.
    If a child seems to choke but then coughs, cries or vomits, you do not need to perform the Heimlich maneuver or CPR. You should, however, still seek medical attention. Many children can choke on an object and then seem fine, but the object may have become lodged in one of the bronchi (wind passage to the lung).
  • If a child is not breathing and the object blocking the airway is visible, try to clear it.
    If the object is not dislodged and the child is not breathing, you can attempt to manually clear the airway if you see the object. To do this, place the child on his back on the ground, open his mouth with your thumb pressing down on his tongue and your fingers wrapped around his lower jaw. Then, using your other hand, try to remove the object with a sweep of your fingers with the other hand. Do this carefully so as not to push the object farther down the airway. If you cannot see the object, begin CPR. To perform the breath-support portion of CPR, tilt the child’s head back and lift his chin. Place your mouth over his mouth and pinch his nose shut. Give two slow breaths. If you cannot move air past the child’s mouth, attempt the Heimlich maneuver again. Keep repeating these steps until help arrives. If you are trained in CPR, you also can give chest compressions. This involves use of the heel of your hand at the lower half of the breastbone. In five-second cycles, alternate with mouth-to-mouth breath support.
  • If the object is not visible, perform CPR until help arrives.
Choking Prevention Information
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High-risk foods for children under age 5

While many of these foods are nutritious, the forms in which they are served can be deadly for young children. To save lives, avoid feeding these foods to your child if he or she is under 5 years old.

  • Hot dogs
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Chunks of meat or cheese
  • Whole grapes
  • Hard or sticky candy, and lollipops
  • Dried fruit
  • Popcorn
  • Chunks of peanut butter (or any nut butter)
  • Chunks of raw vegetables
  • Chewing gum



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