What to Know About Choking Hazards for Children

baby boy playing at home

HIKARU VISION / Moment / Getty Images

Safety hazards, whether it is the latest recall, product alert, or warning about a new danger, often worry parents. And that's good because that hopefully leads them to protect their kids from those hazards.

Unfortunately, choking, one of the biggest child safety hazards often doesn't get much attention.

Choking Hazards

That may be why choking continues to be one of the leading causes of death for children under age four or five. This includes choking on food and non-food items, such as:

  • Whole grapes
  • Peanuts and other nuts
  • Popcorn
  • Hard candy and chewing gum
  • Hard foods, including raw vegetables
  • Soft foods, such as large cubes of cheese, caramels, etc.
  • Chewy foods, such as thick spoonfuls of peanut butter
  • Uncut hot dogs
  • Coins
  • Marbles and small balls
  • Small magnets
  • Small batteries
  • Balloons, which can be a choking hazard to kids under age eight when they put broken balloon pieces in their mouths or when they inhale intact balloons when trying to blow them up
  • Safety pins, pen caps, and tacks
  • Small toy parts that can fit inside a choke test cylinder or no-choke testing tube, which measures 1 1/4 inches wide by 2 1/4 inches long and simulates the size and shape of a young child's throat, such as Lego building blocks, dice, beads, etc
  • Dry pet food

Parents often know to cut up hot dogs and to avoid peanuts and whole grapes, but may forget that popcorn, chewing gum, and hard candy are choking hazards too.

Choking Prevention

Young children put almost everything in their mouths, which makes the main goal of choking prevention to keep any small items that your kids might choke on out of their mouths. This may mean occasionally getting on all fours and checking under the kitchen table and other furniture and behind couch cushions for choke hazards.

In addition to regularly checking the floor, your car, and other areas where your child crawls, walks, and plays, other steps to keep kids safe from choking include that you:

  • Learn CPR and keep emergency numbers by the phone.
  • Learn the Heimlich maneuver.
  • Keep medications and vitamins out of reach in child-resistant containers.
  • Childproof cabinets and drawers so that your kids can't get to small items inside them.
  • Supervise kids when they are eating.
  • Cut foods, like grapes and hot dogs, into small, one-half inch pieces.
  • Avoid foods that are not age-appropriate for toddlers and preschoolers, like chewing gum, hard candy, and nuts until they are at least four years old.
  • Don't let your kids play with toys that are not recommended for their age since they may have small parts and could be a choking hazard.
  • Keep your older kids' toys out of reach of younger siblings.
  • Regularly inspect toys to make sure that parts aren't going to break off and throw out any broken toys.
  • Supervise kids under age eight if they are playing with a balloon, keep uninflated balloons out of reach, and throw away balloons once they deflate or break.
  • See your pediatrician if your child seems to have an episode of choking, recovers, but then develops a chronic cough, since that can be a sign that your child aspirated the item and it is still in his lung.

Also be sure to supervise your kids when they are outside, at someone else's home that may not be as well childproofed as your own, or at a store, as there may be many choking hazards around that your toddler or preschooler could pick up.

3 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Top 10 Leading Causes of Death, United States 2005.

  2. American Academy of Pediatrics. Choking Prevention. Updated September 30, 2019.

  3. Boston Children's Hospital. Aspiration in Children.

Additional Reading

By Vincent Iannelli, MD
Vincent Iannelli, MD, is a board-certified pediatrician and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. Iannelli has cared for children for more than 20 years.