Choking Prevention

Infants and toddlers will put anything in their mouths. In fact, if you look around your home - on the floor and on low shelves, at a child's eye level - you'll find a choking incident waiting to happen. Children are naturally curious and even toys that start out innocent can become dangerous if they are broken or taken apart.

Choking is the fourth leading cause of accidental death in young children. Older infants and children under age 4 are at the greatest risk for choking on food and small objects.

Choking occurs when food or objects enter the airway (trachea). Blocking the airway prevents oxygen from getting into the lungs and to the brain. If the brain goes without oxygen for more than 4 minutes, brain damage or death can occur.

Download choking prevention and tips

Common Choking Dangers

Examples of common choking dangers for infants and children include:


  • Hot dogs
  • Nuts
  • Hard candy
  • Chunks of meat
  • Grapes
  • Raw carrots
  • Popcorn
  • Chunks of peanut butter
  • Raisins

Household Items

  • Balloons
  • Coins
  • Crayon pieces 
  • Small toy parts
  • Pen caps
  • Marbles
  • Small button-type 
  • Nails, tacks, screws & safety pins
  • Jewelry


  • Supervision is the best way to prevent an accidental choking.
  • Keep small household items - such as coins, jewelry, safety pins, nails, tacks and screws - out of the reach of young children.
  • When purchasing toys for your child, look for sturdy construction and follow age recommendations. For children under 3 years of age, avoid toys with small parts. For a list of age-appropriate toys, call Kosair Children's Hospital at (502) 629-KIDS.
  • Remind older children to store their toys and games with small parts up high and out of reach of younger siblings.
  • Examine your child's toys regularly to make sure there are no damaged or broken parts.
  • Rubber balloons are the single most dangerous non-food choking hazard. They pose a serious risk, even to children up to age 11. Balloons should not be given to small children and parents should supervise older children.
  • Keep the above-mentioned foods from children until 5 years of age.
  • Insist that children eat while sitting - they should never run, walk or play with food in their mouths.
  • Prepare and cut food for young children and teach them to chew their food completely before swallowing.
  • Supervise mealtime for young children. Many choking cases occur when older brothers or sisters offer unsafe foods to a younger child.

Learn how other kids are coping.

First Aid for Choking

If the child can cough, speak, or breathe, do not interfere. If the child is unable to cough, speak, or breathe, call 9-1-1 immediately. Then follow these steps for emergency first aid.

For an infant:

  • Try 5 quick back blows.
  • Then give 5 thrusts. Place 2 fingers on the breastbone between the nipples. Push down and then let go.
  • Repeat until airway is clear or until the infant is able to breathe.

For a child: (Heimlich Maneuver)

  • Stand behind the child with your fists clasped between the navel and bottom of the breastbone.
  • Give 5 quick, strong thrusts, in and upward.
  • Repeat until airway is clear.

Understanding emergency first aid procedures will lessen your child's chance of a serious injury from choking. The information in this article can be helpful, but it is not a substitute for an approved first aid course or CPR course. As a parent or caregiver, you should know basic life support skills. Ask your child's doctor, or call the local American Red Cross or American Heart Association for more information on CPR and first aid classes offered locally

In An Emergency

If you believe your child needs emergency care, contact your child's doctor. If you're unable to reach your physician - or in the event of a serious emergency - bring your child straight to the emergency department at Kosair Children's Hospital, any hour of the day or night. Kosair Children's has the staff, the facilities, the equipment, and the technology to handle any pediatric emergency, from the smallest cut to the most serious injury.

Why Kosair Children's Hospital Cares

Kosair Children's Hospital is Kentucky's only freestanding, full-service hospital dedicated exclusively to caring for children, adolescents and young adults. We have a strong commitment to the health and safety of all children.

For more information on choking prevention or to inquire about free fact sheets on a variety of health and safety subjects, call (502) 629-KIDS or 1-800-852-1770.