A Dr. Momma Minute
Kids seem to put everything in their mouths, food or otherwise. And when they do eat food, they seem to think chewing is optional. I have previously shared the dirty dozen food choking hazards in kids, and today I want parents to be aware of the most common non-food choking hazards that may be dangerous to their kids.
Eliminating choking hazards should be the goal
As an ENT surgeon who has performed more than my fair share of emergency surgeries to remove things from the airway of choking kids, I want to stress how prevention is the best solution. When discussing foods, I shared tips on teaching kids proper eating habits and the need to cut food into smaller pieces.
Besides foods, there are many other items that kids can choke on. Once choking in kids became an obvious public health crisis, steps were taken to help prevent these accidents.
In 1994, Congress passed legislation which stopped manufacturers from marketing toys with small parts to kids under 3. And taking it a step further, if the toy is meant for older kids who might have a younger sibling, the product had to add a warning label. These laws have helped save many lives!
It is important to note that these are American laws. Other countries do not have these laws, and parents need to be aware that unsuspecting dangers may occur when on vacation. For instance, I remember when there were candies that had small toys inside of them. This no longer happens in the United States because kids would gobble the candy and choke on the toy. Other countries still have hidden treasures buried in sweet treats.
One obvious exception that comes to mind is the Mardi Gras king cake that contains that little plastic baby toy. Since that cake is meant for adults, it is assumed that adults will chew and spit out the toy. But parents share the cake with kids and need to monitor for choking.
Swallowing objects may not lead to choking, but could still be an emergency
Because I focus on the airway and breathing, of course I talk about choking. However, many kids swallow objects that do not cause trouble breathing. Nevertheless, depending upon the age and size of the child, swallowed objects may still need emergency treatment.
Dr. Kristin Stuppy is an experienced pediatrician who wrote an awesome post titled “My Child Swallowed…” which shares a much more detailed and extensive discussion on this topic.
Many times, children can be evaluated at a local urgent care center where an xray may be taken. Based on the location and the object, the child may need to be referred to the emergency room where they will have a consultation with a physician specialist. Removal of the object in the operating room will then be set up. Please remember to call the urgent care center before going to make sure they have Xrays available to assess your child. All urgent care centers are not the same.
And remember that the swallowing tube sits directly behind the breathing tube, so trouble breathing may happen later after a swallowed object pushes the breathing tube forward. All breathing changes after an object is swallowed must be considered an emergency.
Treatment for a choking child
Because kids like to put lots of things in their mouths that should not be there, choking hazards are things that parents will always need to prevent. It is important for parents to know how to perform CPR on infants and kids. I recommend all parents and caretakers take CPR classes online or at local community locations.
The Heimlich maneuver is the move that is needed to remove an object stuck in the throat. It is part of CPR training but specifically deals with getting the airway opened so that the heart and lungs are not impacted. Basic CPR deals with getting the heart beating and getting air into the lungs. If a foreign object can be removed quickly, the heart and lungs may not be impacted.
BUT the best CPR always involves never needing to perform CPR in the first place! Close supervision or removing the following objects is a great way to avoid an emergency in a child.
But what are the common non-food choking hazards for kids that parents need to monitor? Well, here they are!
12 Non-food Choking Hazards for Infants and Toddlers
- Small Batteries
- Safety Pins (and regular sewing straight pins)
- Legos & Other Small Toys
- Pen Caps
- Small Rocks
- Board Game Pieces
- Refrigerator Magnets
- Coins and Buttons (one of my early publications dealt with a coin that did not pass and could have had catastrophic consequences)
- Rubber bands, small barrettes, and hair bows
Honorable mention to Tide Pods. These new age cute packages that hold laundry detergent so you don’t have to measure and pour into the washing machine. They are small and colorful with shiny packaging. Although teenagers started swallowing them as a dangerous Tide Pod Challenge, toddlers eat them for another reason.
Check out a photo shared by a pediatrician colleague, Dr. Jen Trachtenberg, where her family’s bags of candy looked just like the bag of Tide Pods.
Take home safety tips for parents from the CDC
Parents need to be vigilant and keep small items out of reach of small kids.
- Any toy that is small enough to fit through a 1-1/4-inch circle or is smaller than 2-1/4 inches long is unsafe for children under 4 years old. (Check out at home toy tester listed below)
- Parents should always pay attention to the age recommendations on toy packages. Never allow your child to play with a toy intended for an older child.
- Older siblings should be taught to put their toys away and out of reach of younger siblings when not in use.
- Check under tables, sofa cushions, and beds to ensure there are no hidden hazards like coins or toy fragments your child could discover there.
- Never allow your child to play with uninflated or broken latex balloons. In fact, do not leave your child unattended with a blown-up balloon because it could pop and suddenly become a hazard without your being aware.
- And a warning about beanbag chairs filled with tiny foam pellets. If the bag rips, your child could inhale the pellets which can then block breathing. Don’t let your child play on this type of chair without supervision.
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Safety 1st Small-Object Choking Tester (This is an Amazon Affiliate link)