Choking on Food: What You Need to Know

by | Updated: December 3rd, 2016 | Read time: 2 minutes

It’s a horrifying experience: your child is happily munching on her afternoon snack, when all of a sudden you hear desperate gasps for breaths and turn to see her choking on her last bite. It happens more often than you might think.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 17,500 children under age 14 were treated in emergency departments for choking episodes in 2001. In 2000, 160 kids under age 14 died from an obstruction of the respiratory tract due to inhaled or ingested foreign bodies””41 percent of which were caused by food items.

Recently, pediatricians at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center urged awareness of the potential dangers of a popular American food: hot dogs. With just the right size and consistency to perfectly block the airway, hot dogs are the top cause (17 percent) of food-related choking in children under age three. Next is hard candy (10 percent), grapes (9 percent) and nuts (8 percent).

The Center advises all pediatricians to remind parents to mince or finely slice hot dogs for children, and to withhold other high risk foods like grapes and nuts completely. Parents should also keep a close eye on children while they’re eating and learn to provide early treatment (such as the Heimlich maneuver) for children who are choking.

In February, the American Academy of Pediatrics called for warning labels””similar to those found on small toys that pose a choking risk to young children””on foods like hot dogs. Some influential people agree. Janet Riley, president of the National Hot Dog & Sausage Council, said, “Ensuring the safety of the foods we serve to children is critically important for us.”

To learn how to perform the Heimlich maneuver, visit the Heimlich Institute’s web site or Google search the term to find many step-by-step guides.