Reduce Your Child’s Risk of Choking on Food

More than 12,000 kids yearly go to ER with choking injuries

Young Boy in Distress

Choking is the leading cause of injury among small children, especially age 4 and under. The leading culprit: food.

Advertising Policy

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

About 12,000 kids a year end up in the emergency room in the United States because they choked on food, according to a recent study. That number doesn’t include toys and coins and all the other things they can choke on.

That’s 34 kids a day, every year, who had to go to the ER because they were choking on food items. There are ways to reduce that risk!

Foods kids most likely to choke on

It’s good to know which foods were involved in these incidents.

Hard candy caused the most choking episodes, followed by other candy, meat (other than hot dogs) and bones. Other high-risk foods were hot dogs, seeds and nuts.

Advertising Policy

I tell parents they need to be aware that if their child chokes on a hot dog, nuts or seeds, they’re much more likely to be hospitalized. It’s a more dangerous form of choking even though it’s not as common. Hot dogs are compressible and occlude the airway easily. Nuts and seeds are swallowed by handfuls and large amounts of them can become lodged in the airway.

Keep these foods out of reach

So, along with hot dogs, nuts and seeds, keep these foods out of grabbing distance of kids under 4:

  • Grapes
  • Popcorn
  • Raw vegetable chunks
  • Meat and cheese chunks
  • Hard or sticky candy
  • Chunks of peanut butter
  • Chewing gum

Choking prevention

Here a few tips to help prevent choking episodes:

Advertising Policy

Take into account your child’s stage of development. For example, kids under 2 don’t have molars, so they can’t grind or crush food. Here’s where you really need to be careful with fresh fruits and vegetables like carrots that are very fibrous. Once your child turns 2, she may have all her teeth, but may have trouble swallowing different food items. Different shapes, sizes and textures can increase choking risks, and this can be a concern up to age 5.

Cut the food into smaller pieces. Sounds obvious, but here size is important. Cut the food into pieces small enough so they can’t get stuck in your child’s throat. I tell parents the best size is about the quarter of the diameter of a hot dog or large carrot. It’s also a good idea to cut the food into triangular shapes to allow air to pass just in case the food does get caught in the child’s throat.

Set them down and make them focus. Kids at any age, particularly small children, should be sitting down when they eat—even when they’re eating candy. Make sure they chew thoroughly. Don’t let them run around and play with food in their mouths. When kids sit and focus on what they’re doing, risks of choking goes down significantly.

avatar

Deb Lonzer, MD

Deb Lonzer, MD, is a board-certified pediatrician and the Chair of the Department of Community Pediatrics for Cleveland Clinic Children’s.
Advertising Policy