Safe Kids Kansas

Preventing Accidental Injury.

December 3, 2008

KDHE Office of Communications, 785-296-0461

Protecting Kids from Choking, Suffocation and Strangulation

Safe Kids Kansas Offers Airway Safety Tips

Airway obstruction — choking, strangulation or suffocation  — is the leading cause of accidental death in infants and the fourth leading cause of accidental death in children ages 14 and under. Each year, approximately 890 children ages 14 and under die from airway obstruction injuries.  The majority of childhood choking, suffocation and strangulation incidents occur in the home.

“Small children have small airways,” says Jan Stegelman, Safe Kids Kansas coordinator. “It doesn’t take much to choke them, and you know how kids are always putting small objects in their mouths.”

Most choking incidents in children involve food — parents and caregivers should avoid giving small, round foods such as hot dogs, candies, nuts, grapes, carrots and popcorn to children under age 3. To avoid choking, always supervise young children while they are eating.

“Keep small objects that are potential choking hazards out of their reach. Literally get down on your hands and knees and crawl around. You’ll be surprised at how much is at your child’s eye level,” says Stegelman. “If an object can fit through a standard toilet paper tube or a store-bought small parts tester, don’t let your child play with it.” 

Common items that strangle children include clothing drawstrings, ribbons, necklaces, pacifier strings, and window blind and drapery cords. Other common choking hazards include coins, buttons, small balls and toys with small parts. 

Strangulation is the primary cause of playground deaths, accounting for over 50 percent of them. Remove hood and neck drawstrings from all children’s outerwear. Don’t allow children to wear hanging jewelry, purses, scarves or loose clothing on the playground, and don’t let kids wear bike helmets on the playground, because the straps can get caught on equipment.

Children can also be strangled in the slats or frames of cribs, bunk beds, strollers, high chairs and other devices. A safe crib has no more than 2 3/8 inches of space (the size of a soda can) between slats, is not placed near a window and does not have anything hanging on or above it on a string 7 inches or longer. Tie up all window blind and drapery cords up out of reach. According to the U.S. Consumer and Product Safety Commission, more than 200 children have been strangled by window covering cords since 1990.

Three out of five cases of infant suffocation occur in the sleeping environment. Babies can suffocate when their faces become wedged against or buried in a mattress, pillow, infant cushion or other soft bedding or when someone in the same bed rolls over onto them. Infants should only sleep in properly equipped cribs. Babies and toddlers should never sleep on couches, chairs, regular beds or other soft surfaces.

“To reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome,” Stegelman says, “always, always, always lay babies down on their backs to sleep until they can turn themselves over.” Kids under 8 should not sleep in the top bunk of a bunk bed, and the bed frame and guardrails should not be more than 3.5 inches apart.

Other suffocation hazards include plastic bags and entrapment in poorly ventilated spaces such as laundry machines, car trunks and toy chests. Babies and toddlers under age 3 are especially vulnerable because they cannot lift their heads or escape from tight places. To prevent suffocation: “Supervise. There’s no substitute for active supervision,” says Stegelman.

“One of the best things a parent or caregiver can do is learn CPR and first aid for airway obstruction,” says Stegelman. “Simply put, if your airway is blocked, you are going to die — quickly.” Infant and child CPR classes are available from a variety of agencies, such as the Red Cross. In less than three hours, parents can learn effective skills that can make the difference between life and death for a choking child.

For more information about airway safety, visit

Safe Kids Kansas, Inc. is a nonprofit Coalition of 67 statewide organizations and businesses dedicated to preventing accidental injuries to Kansas children ages 0-14.   Local coalitions and chapters are located in Allen, Anderson, Atchison, Clay, Coffey, Dickinson, Doniphan, Douglas, Elk, Ellis, Finney, Ford, Franklin, Geary, Jackson, Jefferson, Johnson, Labette, Leavenworth, Marion, Marshall, McPherson, Meade, Mitchell, Montgomery, Osage, Pottawatomie, Rice, Riley, Saline, Smith, Shawnee, Wilson and Woodson Counties, as well as the cities of Chanute, Emporia, Leavenworth, Pittsburg, the Wichita Area and the Metro Kansas City Area.  Safe Kids Kansas a member of Safe Kids Worldwide, a global network of organizations whose mission is to prevent accidental childhood injury. The lead agency for Safe Kids Kansas is the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.