Safe Kids Kansas

Preventing Accidental Injury.

November 2, 2009

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 in the U.S., 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 Cherie Sage, State Director for Safe Kids Kansas, “Kids are always putting small objects in their mouths, and it doesn’t take much to choke a child.”  Most choking incidents in children involve food, so 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.

Other common choking hazards include coins, buttons, small balls and toys with small parts.  “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 Sage. “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.

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 placed away from windows and does not have anything hanging on or above it on a string 7 inches or longer.  Check the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s web site at, for recalls on cribs, as well as other child products.  Tie up all window blind and drapery cords up out of reach. According to the U.S. CPSC, 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, stuffed animal, or other soft bedding, or by another person in the bed.  Nursing mothers are recommended to nurse in a sitting position rather than lying down with the baby to reduce the possibility of falling asleep and accidentally suffocating the child.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends placing infants to sleep in cribs or bassinets in the parent’s bedroom.  This provides a safe sleep environment and ease for breastfeeding and supervision. Babies and toddlers should never sleep on couches, chairs, regular beds or other soft surfaces.  Car seats should not be used for napping.  Remove the child and place them to sleep in a safe environment.

“To reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome,” Sage says, “practice the ABCs.  Always place your baby to sleep alone, on their back, and in a crib.  Follow this practice until they can turn themselves over.”  In addition, children who are under age 8 should not sleep in the top bunk of a bunk bed or loft bed, and the bed frame and guardrails should not be more than 3-1/2 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, there’s no substitute for active supervision.

“One of the best things a parent or caregiver can do is learn CPR and first aid for airway obstruction,” says Sage.  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 over 70 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 (including Butler, Harvey, Sumner and Sedgwick counties) and the Metro Kansas City Area (Wyandotte county and several Missouri counties.)  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.

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