Dr. Lisa Thornton, a
mother of three, writes the Health Matters monthly
column for Chicago Parent as is the voice behind "The Doctor is In," a Chicago Parent
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I often see toddlers eating popcorn, taking a bite of a hot dog
or sucking on a gel candy and I'm sure their parents aren't aware
of the danger those foods can present.
Such foods can quickly lodge in a toddler's windpipe and prevent
oxygen from going to the brain, causing death or permanent brain
damage quickly. In fact, choking is one of the
leading causes of death among children 3 and under and the risk
remains significant up to age 5.
Toddlers are at highest risk for choking for several
reasons: they naturally put things in their mouths; they have good
front teeth to take a bite, but poorly developed molars to chew
with; they have a very small airway compared to adults, so small
items get stuck more easily; and they have a weaker cough to
dislodge items that do get stuck.
Latex balloons account for the largest numbers of deaths
because pieces of a balloon can form an airtight seal in the
windpipe. Other common choking hazards are foods (like grapes, hot
dogs, sausage, nuts, popcorn, raw carrots, apples, hard or gel
candy or gum), coins, toys (like marbles, beads and balls), and
other small items (like safety pins, pen or marker caps and
button-type batteries). Walking, running, talking or laughing while
eating can increase choking risk, and games like throwing food in
the air and catching it in the mouth can also be
By law, small balls, balloons, marbles and certain toys
and games must be marked as a choking risk, but toys re-sold at
yard sales and second-hand stores are usually unmarked since they
are not in their original containers. Many children choke on toys
that belong to an older sibling who leaves them within reach or
small items that have fallen on the floor.
Parents have to remain alert for possible risks and should
know CPR and choking intervention.
Dr. Lisa Thornton, a mother of three, is director of
pediatric rehabilitation at Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital and
LaRabida Children's Hospital. She also is assistant professor of
pediatrics at the University of Chicago. E-mail her at
Dr. Lisa Thornton, a mother of three, is director of pediatric rehabilitation at Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital and LaRabida Children’s Hospital. She also is assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Chicago.
See more of Dr. Thornton's stories here.
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