Choking is one of the leading causes of death for children under the age of three. On average, a child dies in the UK every month from choking, and hundreds more require hospital treatment. It can happen so quickly, and the effects can be devastating.
Children can swallow, inhale or choke on items such as small toys, fruits, peanuts, batteries and marbles, and shockingly nappy sacks, the plastic bags used to dispose of soiled nappies, and blind cords can also pose a risk to babies and young children. We are aware of at least 18 deaths involving nappy sacks since 2001, where babies have suffocated after a nappy sack covered their mouth and nose, or have choked after putting a nappy sack in their mouth. We also know of at least 30 deaths and narrow escapes caused by strangulation from blind cords.
Babies and children are most at risk of choking and suffocating because of their curious nature, examining things by putting them in their mouths, but there are steps that can be taken to prevent this.
Here are some tips for choking and suffocation prevention:
- Always choose toys that are appropriate to the age of the child
- Ensure that small objects such as marbles, peanuts and small toys are kept out of reach of children under three years old
- Encourage older children to keep their toys away from their younger playmates
- Pull cords on curtains and blinds should be kept short and kept out of reach
- Keep nappy sacks out of the reach of babies and young children
- Never store nappy sacks in or around the cot or pram
- Small food such as grapes, cherry tomatoes, blackberries and other soft fruits should be cut into quarters to prevent choking
- Baby should always sleep on their back with their feet at the foot of their cot. Tuck the blanket in across their chest and under their arms and keep the cot free from bumpers, pillows and soft toys
- Ensure your child is the right age for the cot, bed or other sleep product you wish to use. Kids’ 2-in-1 (combination) portable airbeds/sleeping bags, which are often promoted for holidays, are not suitable for babies due to the risk of suffocation. Always check the labels and follow the safety instructions.
Another item that can cause serious harm to young children, which may come as a shock to parents, is button cell batteries. Although a child may not choke on them, if undetected the batteries can do serious damage to the gastrointestinal system. When combined with saliva, the electrical current from the battery produces caustic soda that burns through the throat or stomach and can cause further damage to other internal organs.
To prevent your child swallowing a button cell battery, you should:
- Make sure that toys and other products using button cell batteries, such as small electronic devices, have lockable battery compartments. This should mean that they are safe for children to use as the batteries are locked away
- Be extra vigilant with items including musical greeting cards, flameless candles and remote controls as they do not have lockable compartments. RoSPA advises that children should not be allowed to have access to these products if the battery compartment is not secure
- It is a good idea to ensure that spare batteries are locked away, and used batteries are disposed of correctly.
To find out more about preventing choking and suffocation, visit: www.rospa.com/home-safety/advice/child-safety/accidents-to-children/#suffocating