Choking Injuries

Preventing choking injuries is always a key concern on parents’ minds – and for good reason. According to the National SAFE KIDS Campaign, approximately 873 children in the United States ages 14 and under die from airway obstruction injuries, and children suffer approximately 18,000 suffocation injuries every year. Children who are four years of age and younger, especially younger than one year old, are at greatest risk for all forms of airway obstruction injury: they are 15 times more likely to die from suffocation than children between five years and 14 years of age.

Some other noteworthy facts:

▪   Choking accounts for 44 percent of all toy-related fatalities.

▪   Every year, cribs and playpens are responsible for half of all nursery product-related deaths among children five years of age and younger.

▪   Cribs, often older or used cribs, are responsible for 26 strangulation and suffocation deaths every year.

▪   The majority of childhood suffocation, choking and strangulation incidents occur in the home.

▪   60 percent of infants suffocate in the sleeping environment as a result of pillows/cushions blocking their airway while sleeping.

▪   Non-food choking hazards tend to be round in nature, such as coins, small balls, and/or objects that conform, like balloons.

▪   Common items that strangle children include clothing drawstrings, ribbons, necklaces, pacifier strings, and window blind and drapery cords.

▪   Openings that permit the passage of a child’s body but are too small for his or her head can lead to entrapment and strangulation. Hazards include bunk beds, cribs, playground equipment, baby strollers, carriages, and high chairs.

▪   Male and non-white children, as well as children from low-income families, are at increased risk from suffocation, choking and strangulation.

▪   Black children are twice as likely as white children to die from suffocation.

▪   Children placed in adult beds are at increased risk for airway obstruction injury. Since 1990, at least 296 children under 2 years of age have died in adult beds as a result of entrapment in the bed structure. Furthermore, 209 children in this age group died in adult beds from smothering as a result of being overlain by another person.

▪   The total annual cost of airway obstruction injury among children aged 14 years and under exceeds $1.5 billion in the United States.

▪   Children aged 4 years and under account for more than 60 percent of these costs.

The law is designed to help ensure victims of choking injuries are protected. Some relevant laws and regulations include:

▪   The Child Safety Protection Act bans any toy intended for use by children under age three that may pose a choking, aspiration or ingestion hazard and requires choking hazard warning labels on packaging for these items when intended for use by children between three and six years of age.

▪   The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has issued voluntary guidelines for drawstrings on children’s clothing to prevent strangulation in the neck and waist drawstrings of upper outerwear garments, such as jackets and sweatshirts.

▪   In 1992, the CPSC voted to ban infant cushions, in order to prevent infants from suffocating while sleeping on infant cushions. Banned cushions have all the following features:

  1. a flexible fabric covering;
  2. are loosely filled with a granular material such as plastic foam beads or pellets;
  3. are easily flattened;
  4. are capable of conforming to the body or face of an infant;
  5. are intended or promoted for use by children under age one

It’s clear that young children will always try to place a wide variety of small objects in their mouths, and it makes sense for parents to take such precautions as carefully choosing their children’s toys, ensuring all manufacturers’  instructions are followed, and ensuring children do not have unsupervised access to potentially dangerous items, such as toys with small parts, batteries, coins, and even food.

But no matter how many precautions parents may take, it is impossible for them to control everything, such as products that were not manufactured appropriately. In addition, caretakers may be responsible if they fail to adequately monitor children, especially while the children are eating, or if they allow children to have toys or food inappropriate for their age.

Unfortunately, too many childhood choking victims do not survive their injuries. Others face permanent brain damage and disability from lack of oxygen. This can lead to lifelong difficulties and untold pain and suffering for everyone involved.