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Household Safety: Preventing Choking

Putting things in their mouths is one of the ways that babies and young children explore their worlds. Choking is usually caused by food, toys, and other small objects that easily can get stuck in a child's windpipe.

By knowing the dangers you can keep your kids safe and prevent choking.

Which Foods Are Choking Hazards?

  • Hard, smooth foods can block the windpipe. Don't give these to kids younger than 4 years old:
    • nuts
    • sunflower seeds
    • watermelon with seeds
    • cherries with pits
    • raw carrots, peas, and celery
    • popcorn
    • hard candy
    • raw apples and pears
  • These soft foods should be cut into small pieces, peeled if they have skin, or avoided:
    • cheese cubes
    • hot dogs and sausages (cut into half-moon or triangle shapes, not rounds)
    • grapes
    • caramels

Avoid giving kids spoonfuls of peanut butter and chewing gum. These are sticky in the mouth and can get stuck in the throat.

How Can I Help My Child Avoid Choking on Food?

  • Encourage kids to sit when eating and to chew thoroughly.
  • Teach kids to chew and swallow their food before talking or laughing.
  • Be especially careful during parties when bowls of nuts or candies may be easy for kids to reach or may have fallen on the floor.
  • Don't let kids run, play sports, or ride in the car with gum, candy, or lollipops in their mouths.
  • Supervise older children, who might not know they shouldn't give some foods to younger kids.
  • Read all food labels carefully.

Which Toys and Other Small Objects Are Choking Hazards?

  • balloons
  • toys with small parts and doll accessories
  • coins
  • safety pins
  • paperclips
  • push pins
  • marbles and small balls
  • nails, bolts, and screws
  • erasers
  • batteries
  • broken crayons
  • jewelry (rings, earrings, pins, etc.)
  • small magnets
  • small caps for bottles, including chocolate syrup, pancake syrup, and soda (kids may try to lick the sweet drops out of the caps, which can get stuck in the airway)

How Can I Help My Child Avoid Choking on Toys and Other Objects?

  • Check the floors, under rugs, between cushions, and on counters within your child's reach for small objects or toy parts.
  • Always follow all manufacturers' age recommendations when buying toys.
  • Never buy vending-machine toys for small children; these toys do not have to meet safety regulations and often contain small parts.
  • Make sure small refrigerator magnets are out of your child's reach.
  • Check toys often for loose or broken parts — for example, a stuffed animal's loose eye or a broken plastic hinge.
  • Warn older kids not to leave loose game parts or toys with small pieces in easy reach of younger siblings.
  • Throw out or recycle all batteries safely, especially button batteries (like those used for remote controls and watches).
  • Encourage kids not to put pencils, crayons, or erasers in their mouths when coloring or drawing.
  • Put away all breakable objects and those that are small enough to fit in small mouths.

Be Prepared

If you're expecting a baby or already have a child, it's a good idea to:

Even with these precautions in place, kids still can get hurt and accidents do happen. But being prepared will help you to act quickly and confidently in the event of an emergency.

Date reviewed: January 2020