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Sunday, July 3, 2022

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Children Choking

We always see packages that warn parents of choking hazards. Perhaps you have seen the choking warning on toys or do-it-yourself kits. Unfortunately, not everything comes with the choking warning– including things that are common around the house. Jaime Verberne, Child Safety Expert at St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital shared with us what some of the most common things are that kids choke on and what to do if your child does find themselves choking. 

What are the most common choking hazards for kids that parents might not think of right away?

There are many different items that can pose a choking risk. The best thing to do if you aren’t sure of a certain item is to use a toilet paper roll. Anything that is less than 2-¼ inches in diameter could be a potential risk to a child for choking. So all you have to do is get a toilet paper roll, put the item through and if it fits in it, a child can choke on it.

Some of the biggest culprits that we see are coins, buttons, toys with loose parts that come off. Balloons like latex balloons are very dangerous. Often we see parents giving their children balloons to play with and that always makes us cringe because we know that if the latex balloon gets swallowed, it is very very hard to clear the airways.

Even things like hair bows, barrettes, necklaces, clip-on earrings and those types of small items can make a child choke. The button batteries, which we have talked about before are dangerous. We want to be careful of anything magnetic as well. Magnets that go on refrigerators or magnets that can fall off of the back of heavier magnets can cause choking.

Food items account for half of all choking injuries. Hot dogs, grapes, hard vegetables like carrots all should be cut and you should really stay away from raw vegetables like carrots for children that are three and under.

What should a parent do if their child is choking?

If you start to hear a child cough, let them cough. That is the best defense of the child clearing the item. Sometimes people hear a child cough and rush up to them to give them a pat on the back or something and that scares the child which can make the child take in a breathe, which could cause the object to become lodged in the airway. So what we tell parents, as CPR instructors, is that if you hear the child coughing, they’re not choking.

But if you see a child is starting to wheeze with a high-pitched wheeze sound, or you see them turning blue or gray, then you know you have a problem.

For children under one, you will want to do back blows. If a child is older than one, you would do the heimlich. What we tell families is that number one, make sure that you aren’t giving your child objects that can be a risk for choking. But also, what you need to know is what to do if your child does choke. So we really try to express the importance of learning CPR. You might not need it ever for a cardiac issue, but more than likely you will need it for a respiratory issue like choking. It is really important that any caregiver to a child takes a class to learn the basics of CPR and choking rescue.

Can you tell me a little bit about the classes that parents can take at St. Joseph’s Hospital?

St. Joseph’s offers Adult CPR classes, a Safe Baby Express class that teaches CPR and choking rescue, and a Safe Sitter babysitting class that includes a CPR component. You can register for these classes at

Child safety experts with St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital also teach FREE CPR classes through the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County Family Resource Centers. Those are all led by St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital.

After a child has choked, even if the parent was able to successfully handle it at home, do they still need to come to the ER or to a pediatrician?

Always go back to the pediatrician to make sure, because the item might have just shifted a little bit but that doesn’t mean that it won’t cover the airway again. You want to make sure you are following up with your primary care physician.

Is there anything else you want to add about choking hazards?

One thing that I think is really important is to get down on a child’s level. So parents or grandparents should get on their hands and knees and crawl around. Look under the couch and in all of the crevices and corners of the rooms to search for loose items. You will really be surprised on what you find like buttons and coins and nuts and things that people may have dropped along the way. So it is important to get down on a child’s level and search the premises.   

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