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The REAL Choking Hazards

I really wanted to call this article: “See, I told you balloons are evil!” — only because I have a terribly strange and irrational fear of balloons (globophobia). Clowns? Spiders? No problem, but put me near a latex balloon and I lose my sh!t.

I digress.

I wrote this article because I kept seeing moms who were terrified that their infant would choke on Cheerios… or even peas. Then they turn around and hand the baby a banana. Duuude, you’re killing me!

Kinda A Big Deal

Choking is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality among children, especially those aged 3 years or younger. 

Yay, something else to be paranoid about! Thanks, Meg.

Okay so, I made you a pie (I was up all night). Here is what kids tend to choke on:

Choking Deaths

This is what we really care about, right? I’m sure choking sucks and all, but I’m really interested in what can kill a kid…

Two-thirds of choking deaths happen to children under 3. Not a surprise because, as you well know, they stick EVERYTHING in their widdle mouths. Mmmm, Play-Doh and leaves and crayons. Delicious.

So what do they choke (and die) on? It might surprise you.

1. Evil Balloons (see, I told you)

Latex balloons were associated with 29% of deaths overall, making it the most dangerous choking hazard for kids. Why are balloons so dangerous?

Children can inhale latex balloons whole while blowing them up – or – they choke on fragments of broken balloons after they’ve popped. Latex is so dangerous because it conforms to the trachea, completely blocking the airway and making it almost impossible to expel with the Heimlich maneuver.

So, what, no balloons at parties?? (Sounds great to me!) No, just use Mylar (the shiny foil ones) instead.

2. Hot Dogs

17% of choking deaths are from hot dogs alone. Yeah, that’s right, wieners (see, I told you wieners were dangerous!! Kidding…).

Just why are frankfurters so lethal? A hot dog is “dangerously-shaped”: they are cylindrical, airway-sized, and very compressible. This allows it to wedge tightly into the bottom part of the pharynx and completely cover the airway. Don’t want.

To avoid: cut hot dogs length-wise before serving and you’re cool. Easy peasy.

P.S. Sausages also fall into this category. And anything else that is hot dog-like in shape. Hot doggy stuff, you know.

3. Grapes, Carrots, and Bananas

My pediatrician told me that bananas are the #1 choking hazard based on his personal experience. While I couldn’t find any reliable stats, the general consensus is that grapes, carrots, and bananas are the next most dangerous food items.

Do you see a recurring theme here? Shape and texture. The most dangerous items are the size and shape of a baby’s throat: round or spherical and about 1-1.5 inches in diameter. And the mushier, the worse.

Never hand your kid a whole banana, cut it length-wise first. For grapes, cut them into halves or quarters (I know, I know, it’s a HUGE pain in the ass). For carrots, cut them into sticks, not rounds.

4. Other Foods

Other dangerous chokey foods include large gobs of peanut butter (seriously), popcorn, nuts, marshmallows, gum and candy (especially round lollipops), & cherry tomatoes.

5. Water Bottle Tops

Another huge non-food choking hazard is bottle tops, mainly from water bottles or plastic soda bottles, although pop tops fall into this category as well. Water bottle tops are everywhere and often fall onto the floor, into cracks in the couch, etc. They are also the perfect bad size.

6. Coins

While coins are not high on the “deadly stuff” list, children choke on them a lot, mostly because they are plentiful and are often found on the floor, which is an infant’s domain. Pennies and nickels pose the biggest risk – and actually the Euro is a big choking problem in Europe.

Sit While You Eat

Never let a small child run, walk, play, or lie down with food in his/her mouth.

My best friend’s toddler was being chased around by his older brother while sucking on a lollipop after dinner. He tripped and it became completely lodged in his throat and she was (luckily) able to fish it out by a stick. They were lucky; had the stick come off the lollipop, it could have been a much worse situation.

When your babe gets to be a toddler, tell him to sit his ass in a chair if he wants a lollipop. He’ll do it, I promise. 😉

Learn CPR

If your child does choke, you should know how to perform CPR. To become certified in CPR, contact the Red Cross or call 1-800-RED-CROSS. The next best thing is to print out the Red Cross CPR/AED guide (download it here). It’s super easy to follow in a panic and I suggest you keep it somewhere in/near your kitchen.

Okay, okay – sorry for all the scary stuff. It’s good to know it, right? (Just say yes.) Knowledge is power.

Peace out.



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  1. Avatar of Annie

    This is such a wake up call for the things we already know though can sometimes kind of forget. Thanks for making it funny, Meg and for keeping it real. Great work on the chart!

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