Choking is a major cause of accidental death among young children and can be an unnerving experience even for an adult. While parents rightfully take care to “baby-proof” their home and ensure it is devoid of choking hazards, be it small objects or toys, most nonfatal choking is usually related to food. In adults, choking may occur while talking and eating, rushing through a bite of food, or eating on the go.
What Foods Can You Choke On?
The unfortunate answer is – all food. You could choke quite easily on anything you are eating, given the right circumstances. Thankfully, most foods aren’t prone to cause choking. By taking care while consuming certain “high risk” foods, you can reduce your chances of encountering a food-choking incident.1
Hot Dogs Or Sausages
This popular kid-friendly food is actually one of the most common choking hazards. This is because the food isn’t cut into bite-sized pieces, unlike other finger food. Taking overly large bites or swallowing too fast without chewing makes this a risk. Coin-shaped cuts often used by many parents to make it easier to eat are also dangerous because they could slide down the pipe and block it. Experts suggest cutting it lengthwise first before dicing it across. Adults too run the risk of choking because hot dogs are often a takeaway option while you’re walking or watching a game (and are distracted).2
Chewing Gum And Hard Candy
These can be inhaled if you are distracted and once lodged they are hard to pry free. Avoid giving little kids any kind of hard candy or chewing gum altogether. One study showed that this was the leading cause of nonfatal food-related choking during the period of research.3
Carrots/Apples/Chunks Of Any Raw Veggies Or Fruits
The issue here is with the size of the bites and the shape of the pieces. While chopping up the fruit or vegetables, we often leave in irregular sizes or bigger bits. Children may gulp these down instead of chewing them, causing these morsels to get stuck in their windpipe. The elderly too will face similar problems if pieces aren’t cut properly or the vegetable or fruit is too hard.
Grapes are slippery and can easily go the wrong way for adults and children. Cut them in half and de-seed before serving or eating.
Meat And Cheese Chunks
These must be bite-sized and appropriate to the age of the person.
These present a hazard for young children. In fact, healthcare professionals suggest avoiding them entirely from the diet of those under 7 years old.4
This gooey treat can also stick to the walls of the child’s throat and present a choking hazard if they try and swallow too much in one go. Never allow a child to eat peanut butter on its own. Spread it on toast or crackers with a drink on the side to help it go down easier.
Marshmallows And Gooey Or Sticky Candy
These soft cloudy sweets and other jello-based candy can easily choke a child. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) policy statement “Prevention of Choking Among Children” recommends that there be warning labels on foods like this that pose a high risk of choking. Until this is fully implemented, discretion and common sense is your best ally.
The shape, size, and lightness of popcorn make it easy to inhale by mistake, presenting a serious choking hazard.
Besides these, keep an eye out for any food that is very dry or hard, slippery or sticky, or tends to clump together. Be watchful of the shape and size of foods that could stick in the windpipe.
Who Is Most At Risk?
Choking on food kills 1 child every 5 days in the country. A horrifying statistic in itself, but that doesn’t include the 12,400 plus instances of food-choking and many near-misses that bring children to the emergency room each year.5
According to the Department of Health, New York, choking is the fourth leading cause of accidental death in kids aged 5 and under. What is it that puts little kids more at risk? Among other things, their windpipes are tiny and so any morsel of food that goes the wrong way can quickly cut off the air supply. Kids are also more excitable and often distracted, causing them to swallow without properly chewing. Moving about as they eat restlessly can add to the chances of choking.6
How To Cut Choking Risk Among Children
When it comes to children, no amount of caution is too much. Avoiding these choking hazards is not always an option for nutritional reasons or simply because they include some childhood favorites like popcorn. However, you can take a few simple steps to eat safer.7
- Never leave a child unattended when they are eating these foods
- Encourage the child to focus only on eating, rather than multitasking with a game, video, electronic device, or book
- Do not distract them from the task at hand. While they are eating that is all they should be doing.
- Teach your child to chew well before swallowing. Correct the way they eat if you need to.
- Ensure they are only given foods they can handle at their age. They may need more teeth and better muscular development to chew certain foods.
- Chop food up really fine into even-sized pieces. For raw vegetables and fruit, consider shredding, finely dicing, or mildly cooking to soften before giving it to the child.
- Do not feed them in the car or while on the move.
- Ensure there is adequate water or liquid available to help the solids go down and to clear the mouth between bites.
- Watch them like a hawk. There is no substitute for vigilance.
Adults And Choking Risk
The elderly are also a higher risk group when it comes to choking. According to the National Safety Council, 2,751 of the 4,864 choking linked deaths in 2013 were among seniors aged 75 and over.8
Many of the rules that apply to kids are applicable to adults as well. While multitasking might be your thing, avoid it during eating and focus on the food alone. Steer clear of eating while moving about in a vehicle or otherwise. Cut your food up into small bites, drink plenty of water, and chew properly before swallowing. Avoid foods that can stick to your throat and you should be fine.
|↑1||Choking Prevention, American Academy of Pediatrics.|
|↑2, ↑4||Altkorn, Robert, Xiao Chen, Scott Milkovich, Daniel Stool, Gene Rider, C. Martin Bailey, Angela Haas, Keith H. Riding, Seth M. Pransky, and James S. Reilly. “Fatal and non-fatal food injuries among children (aged 0–14 years).” International journal of pediatric otorhinolaryngology 72, no. 7 (2008): 1041-1046.|
|↑3, ↑5||Chapin, Meyli M., Lynne M. Rochette, Joseph L. Annest, Tadesse Haileyesus, Kristen A. Conner, and Gary A. Smith. “Nonfatal choking on food among children 14 years or younger in the United States, 2001–2009.” Pediatrics 132, no. 2 (2013): 275-281.|
|↑6||Choking Prevention for Children, Department of Health, New York.|
|↑7||Choking Prevention, University of Michigan Health System.|
|↑8||Injury Facts 2016 Edition, National Safety Council.|