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Around the home: Learn ways to prevent kids from choking on food
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Choking prevention tips

n Teach your child to chew all foods thoroughly before swallowing them.

n To avoid choking, always supervise young children while they are eating.

n Do not let your child eat or suck on anything like candy while lying down or playing. Have children sit in a high chair or at a table while they eat.

n Warn baby sitters and older siblings not to share these dangerous hard and soft foods with small children.

n Don't allow your child to fill his cheeks with food like a chipmunk.

n Clean up right away after parties. An especially dangerous time is the morning after parties, when a toddler may find dangerous foods on the floor.

n Learn CPR and First Aid for infants and children and the Heimlich maneuver for choking.

Choking can be life-threatening. According to Safe Kids USA , approximately 873 children ages 14 and younger die from airway obstruction injuries each year. More than 19,000 children were treated in hospital emergency rooms for choking-related episodes in 2005.

Choking occurs when suddenly, an object is swallowed, goes down the wrong way and lodges in the windpipe.

The transport of oxygen to the brain is blocked and without oxygen for as little as 4 minutes, brain damage and death can occur.

Young children are still learning to eat solid food. From the time children are weaned from the bottle until about the age of 4, children are mastering the skill of chewing, swallowing and breathing simultaneously.

Mealtime should be kept quiet with no running or playing around. If a child becomes distracted or excited while eating, the food could easily be inhaled into the windpipe.

Children, especially those younger than age 3, are particularly vulnerable to airway obstruction death and injury due to the small size of their upper airways, their relative inexperience with chewing and their natural tendency to put objects in their mouths.

Children younger than age 4 are also more likely to choke on small, hard, smooth foods because they do not have the back teeth needed to chew and grind food properly.

The most dangerous are foods such as hot dogs, sausage, chunks of cheese, hard candies, nuts, grapes, carrots and popcorn. These can easily form a perfect plug in a child's airway. Other hazardous food items include raw vegetables, jellybeans, raw unpeeled fruit slices, dried fruits or chunks of meat.

Hard foods that could be sucked into the lungs when a child takes a breath are sunflower seeds, orange seeds, cherry pits, watermelon seeds, gum and some corn chips. Children younger than 4 years don't know which foods they should spit out.

Make sure that food is an appropriate size for the age of the child; it should be grated, mashed, or chopped into bite sized pieces before being fed to a child.

Peanuts and hard candy should be avoided altogether. An older child is more likely to spit out something that is too hard, or large, to chew. This doesn't mean a child older than 4 can't choke; a person of any age can choke on food.

Debbie Wilburn is county extension agent in family and consumer science with the Hall County Extension Office. Contact: 770-535-8290.