For children 0-to-4 years of age, candy was the cause of over 55% of choking episodes that required hospitalization, according to a study in Pediatrics. The majority of choking-related injuries among babies and young children are not from toys or coins, but rather food.
Choking on food or nonfood substances is a leading cause of childhood injury or death. Over 12,000 nonfatal choking-related injuries are caused by food annually. The most hazardous age range for choking injuries is between 2-and-4 years. This study found that 62% of choking injuries happened in children 4 years or younger.
Before molars grow in around the age of 2, children are able to bite off a piece of food with their front teeth, but lack the ability to grind it adequately, noted the study authors. By around the age of 3 to 4, children have molars but are still learning to chew and swallow effectively. Also, children around this age are easily distracted and often not focused on the task of eating.
Of the foods associated with choking for children 0-to-4 years of age, the top-five were:
- Hard candy
- Other candy
- Meat (other than hot dogs)
- Fruits and vegetables
Previous studies identified hot dogs and seeds/nuts as top foods associated choking. However, this recent study found that hot dogs ranked seventh and seeds/nuts ranked twelfth.
High-risk foods, which are more difficult to chew, included raw fruits and vegetables. They can overwhelm a child's ability to chew and swallow, leading to the breathing of food fragments.
Caregivers of children should be aware of food choking prevention recommendations. For example, children younger than 5 years of age should not be given hard candies or gum. Raw fruits and vegetables should be cut into small pieces.
Young children should be supervised while eating, should eat sitting down, and should never walk, run, play, or lie down with food in their mouth. Caretakers can be prepared by being familiar with choking-related rescue maneuvers.