Keeping Kids Safe: Common (& Not So Common) Choking Hazards

Keeping kids safe is top on the minds of most parents, but sometimes hazards are just not that obvious. Introducing foods to infants and toddlers can be great fun, but it also brings opportunities for danger. A little knowledge about how to avoid choking can go a long way in avoiding serious emergencies.

I wrote in a previous post about using pixie stix to get kids to take their medicine. I am going to co-opt this old favorite treat for our lesson about choking hazards. What does a powdered candy have to do with choking hazards, you might ask?

The text and photo from this blog demonstrates that kids can make nearly anything into a choking hazard:


“Looks like fun, right? Probably. But a tube of powdered candy of that size might as well be a loaded gun. It’s frickin dangerous. I know.

When I was thirteen and tried putting the whole mega-Pixie Stick worth of flavored sugar in my mouth, I laughed and inhaled and the moisture in my throat hardened the sugar into a moist sugar ball lodged squarely in my trachea.

One my friends knew the Heimlich maneuver and managed to dislodge the bright blue coagulation into a psychedelic pool of vibrantly scarlet regurgitated Big Red Cola. It was the [last] time I touched either Pixie Stix or Big Red.

It wasn’t my time but I think, when I’m ready, that is exactly how I want to go.”

I love this post for several reasons…

  1. This photo is a pediatrician’s nightmare.
  2. That someone could avoid impaling himself with the sharp plastic tube but instead manage to obstruct his trachea with powdered candy is a mark of real talent. It’s amazing that we have any children left unharmed.
  3. I love the word “frickin” and will try to use it as often as possible in this blog and in my real life. Not to worry, I will avoid using it around kids.
  4. Speaking of near-death-by-food, I almost poked my eye out with a loaf of bread once. That story will probably never make it into this blog, so contact me directly if you’re interested. It is as embarrassing as it sounds….
  5. Though the Olympics was more than a year ago, swimming boys still make me think of Michael Phelps. I love Michael Phelps. I’m not the only one.

Seriously though, while pixie stix are not usually cited as top choking hazards, choking is a real hazard for children, and food is the number one culprit.

It’s amazing what a mostly-toothless little one can manage to eat. Starting at about 9 months of age, babies can begin to manage foods of a variety of textures and shapes. But remember, kids less than 4 years old may not chew, grind, or gum food well and are at great risk for choking. The most common choking hazards are round firm foods (hot dogs, grapes, nuts, popcorn), and sticky/gooey foods like peanut butter or sticky snacks and candies. Chunks of uncooked vegetables and fruits can also make their way down the wrong tube. Candy and gum top the list of foods that send choking children to the emergency room.

Tips for Parents:

How can you prevent choking? Here are a few tips…

  • Take an infant and child CPR class: if you did not take one before your child was born, try to do so by 6 months of age, before your little one starts solids. If you have taken the class, review the course materials as a little refresher.
  • To avert the need to perform these life-saving maneuvers on your child, avoid potentially hazardous food until your child is four to five years old. Cook foods well or cut firm foods into pieces less than 1/2 inch in size.
  • Give your child small portions, adding to his plate as he finishes.
  • Make (and enforce) a household rule that all food is eaten at the table. In a chair. And no eating while running (with scissors). Or playing. Or lying down. Or in a car (or a bus or a taxicab or hot air balloon).
  • Limit distractions (tv, pets, games, clowns) at mealtime.
  • Watch out for “chipmunking”: hoarding food in the cheeks of an eager eater. Kids really do this.
  • Keep helpful older sibs from feeding the little one. They will not provide the same level of supervision that you will.
  • And most importantly, NEVER leave a young child alone while eating.

Useful Links:

About the Author

Dr. Kim is a pediatrician and blogger in San Francisco. She writes about child health, parenting, and doctoring children at She believes that the joys of parenting should outweigh the worries. Dr Kim is a former member of the PedSafe Expert team


3 Responses to “Keeping Kids Safe: Common (& Not So Common) Choking Hazards”

  1. Fantastic advice about choking risks and how to avoid them. I vividly remember my then-year-old daughter choking on a small piece of cooked carrot. Fortunately I had taken infant/child CPR and First Aid and immediately grabbed her, put her upside down on my leg and whacked between the shoulder blades a couple of times. Out popped the carrot and no further crisis. It’s amazing how that training can kick in when you really need it.

    A great organization was started by Tali Orad, called Become Educated in CPR ( after she saved a 1-year old who had choked and required CPR. Wouldn’t it be great if all new parents had CPR training before they left the hospital?
    .-= Rebecca Wear Robinson´s last blog ..Keep swimming, keep swimming, keep swimming =-.

  2. BeCPR says:

    What Dr.Kim writes here is very true and very important.
    I strongly encourage parents and caregivers to take a quick CPR course. These couple of hourse can make the difference between life and death. You can find a list of courses nationwide in this non-profit web site and share your experiences there.

  3. Gina MF says:

    My nephew almost choked to death eating pixie sticks over the weekend. he and his boy cousins were all eating them really fast letting it go down their throats. they had no idea what could happen. it made a ball like hard candy in his throat like it says in this article…. luckily my sister is a nurse and knew how to do the heimlich. we all got a big scare. he is okay now his throat was hurting him afterwards and he was a bit shaking up. good thing we all realized something was wrong with him and did something quick.

Speak Your Mind

Tell us what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!