New focus on choking dangers

Posted: Updated:
By Tami Hoey By Tami Hoey

PHOENIX -- It's something many parents focus on all summer long: making sure they know CPR so they can keep their kids safe.

But even though school's back in session and pool season is winding down, there are still plenty of reasons for parents to make sure they know how to save a life.

When Lana Whitehead first pioneered baby and infant swim lessons 40 years ago, she knew CPR would be a major part of her classes at Swimkids USA.

“Well of course, water safety is our number one push because so many children down in backyard pools," she says.

But Whitehead also knew her courses would need to include something not always taught in CPR classes. “In our classes we teach a parent how to handle a choking emergency.”

It turns out that choking is the number one cause of accidental death among infants. In fact, a child dies every five days from choking, and it's the number one reason people need to administer CPR.

And the danger is lurking all around your home, Whitehead cautions. “Children can choke on coins, food, toys. But the number one culprit is hot dogs, followed by grapes, carrots, hard candy, whatever," she says.

And it is not just children, a point that hit home for Whitehead, just a few weeks ago, “I was just in a meeting and they had some hard candy,” she remembers. "Those big round hard candies. I don't know what I did, but all of the sudden I couldn't breathe. It scares the devil out of you; it is really terrifying.”

Fortunately, someone there did know what to do: the traditional Heimlich maneuver, which they teach at Swimkids USA.

But instructor Seth Wilcock says it is different for children, and parents need to know that. "We have to go into five back blows, and five chest compressions," he says.

Wilcock says that normally will dislodge what is caught, but says parents need to call 911 immediately and be ready to administer traditional CPR until help arrives.

Whitehead says even though swim season is almost over, the time to learn this life-saving technique is now.

“The chances of having a choking emergency are so much greater than any other type of emergency, so we have to train parents to handle the situation," she says.

Swimkids USA is offering a five-hour class on Saturday, August 23, from 1-6 p.m. The cost is $25.00.


Health experts at Banner Health also shared these tips with us:

•Never leave a small child unattended while eating. Direct supervision is necessary.

•Children should sit up straight when eating, should have sufficient number of teeth, and the muscular and developmental ability needed to chew and swallow the foods chosen. Remember, not all children will be at the same developmental level. Children with special health care needs are especially vulnerable to choking risks.

•Children should have a calm, unhurried meal and snack time.

•Children should not eat when walking, riding in a car or playing.

•Cut foods into small pieces, removing seeds and pits. Cook or steam vegetables to soften their texture. Cut hot dogs lengthwise and width-wise.

•Model safe eating habits and chew food thoroughly.

•Offer plenty of liquids to children when eating, but solids and liquids should not be swallowed at the same time. Offer liquids between mouthfuls.

•Use only a small amount of peanut butter when the child is ready and use with jelly, or cream cheese on whole grain breads (Remember peanut butter can stick to the roof of a child's mouth and form a glob.)

•Think of shape, size, consistency and combinations of these when choosing foods.

•Pay particular attention to those foods, toys and household hazards mentioned that pose choking hazards to ensure child safety.

•Educate caregivers and the community about choking hazards and precautions to take to prevent choking. Identify emergency resources and contacts.

•Become familiar with life-saving techniques such as child cardiopulmonary resuscitation, abdominal thrusts (Heimlich Maneuver), Automated External Defibrillators (AED) or calling 911.

Choking Hazards


•Hot dogs (especially cut into a coin shape), meats, sausages, and fish with bones

•Popcorn, chips, pretzel nuggets, and snack foods

•Candy (especially hard or sticky candy), cough drops, gum, lollipops, marshmallows, caramels, hard candies, and jelly beans

•Whole grapes, raw vegetables, raw peas, fruits, fruits with skins, seeds, carrots, celery, and cherries

•Dried fruits, sunflower seeds, all nuts, including peanuts

•Peanut butter, (especially in spoonfuls or with soft white bread)

•Ice cubes and cheese cubes

•Foods that clump, are sticky or slippery, or dry and hard textured

•Food size and shape, especially round or a shape that could conform to the shape and size of the trachea (windpipe). The size of a young child's trachea (windpipe) or breathing tube is approximately the size of a drinking straw in diameter.

•Combinations of food size, texture, and shape can pose a threat. For example, a slippery hard candy with a round shape about the size of a drinking straw could block an airway (windpipe)

Household Items/Toys:

•Latex balloons, coins, marbles, toys with small parts, small balls, pen or marker caps, button type batteries, medicine syringes, screws, stuffing from a bean bag chair, rings, earrings, crayons, erasers, staples, safety pins, small stones, tiny figures, and holiday decorations including tinsel, or ornaments and lights
•Any toy or other object that is labeled as a potential choking hazard