Airway obstruction is the leading cause of unintentional injury-related deaths under the age of 1 in the United States. More than 10,000 children are taken to hospital emergency rooms for related injuries every year.
Choking occurs when food or small objects get caught in the throat or block the airway, preventing oxygen from traveling to the lungs and the brain. After more than four minutes without oxygen, brain damage or even death may occur.
"Any food that's small, round and hard can pose a choking hazard to a child," says Angela Mickalide, program director for the National SAFE KIDS Campaign. "Under the age of 6, children have small upper airways and tend not to chew very well and also have a tendency to put everything they find into their mouths."
Food is a major risk for choking. To protect your kids:
Children are naturally curious and have a tendency to put things in their mouths. Keep children away from the refrigerator, and out of people's purses and luggage.
Coins, especially pennies, are a major choking hazard and since adults rarely pick them up, they are plentiful on the ground for children. Before babies begin to crawl, look for things they might discover down at floor level.
Common household items that should be kept away from infants and young children include latex balloons, coins, marbles, toys with small parts, toys that can be compressed to fit entirely into a child's mouth, pen or marker caps, and button-type batteries. Check under furniture and cushions for these small items.
Toys are a big source of choking hazards. Deflated or broken latex balloons are especially dangerous since the balloons can adhere to the internal part of the esophagus and be hard to remove. Make sure smaller children can't get hold of toys with small parts intended for older kids. Follow the age recommendations on toy packages.
Parents can use a choke tube guide. It's a plastic device available in most baby stores or juvenile products stores, to judge whether an item is a choking risk. You simply take a toy or a piece of food, and if it fits in the tube, it poses a risk.
In addition to creating a safe environment for your baby, it's important to know what to do in an emergency. The American Red Cross and the American Heart Association offer classes in first aid, CPR, and emergency prevention.