Airway Obstruction | The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia

Kohl's Injury Prevention Program

Airway Obstruction

Airway obstruction due to choking, suffocation or strangulation, prevents oxygen from entering the lungs and brain. Lack of oxygen to the brain for more than four minutes may result in brain damage or death. Airway obstruction can occur when children choke on an object that is blocking the airway, suffocate on items that block or cover the airways, or strangle themselves with items that become wrapped around their necks.

Children less than 4 years of age are at a greater risk of suffering a serious injury or death caused by airway obstruction. In fact, airway obstruction is the leading cause of unintentional injury-related death among children younger than 1 year of age. Choking, suffocation and strangulation are unintentional injuries that most often occur in the home. Parents should follow age-appropriate safety recommendations to keep children safe at every age. 

Choking – safety recommendations


Young children may not chew food properly before swallowing, increasing the risk of choking. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), children younger than 4 years old should not be fed any round, firm food unless the food is cut into small, non-round pieces. The following safety recommendations can help prevent choking in young children:

Non-food objects

Small, round or similar objects can be choking hazards and should be kept away from young children. You may want to purchase a small parts tester to help determine which items are small enough to cause choking hazards. You can also use a toilet paper roll, keeping in mind that it is wider than the official tester. Examples of objects that can obstruct the airway include:

*Special note to parents and caregivers

Coin-sized lithium button batteries are potential hazards to young children. When swallowed, these batteries can get stuck in the throat, resulting in serious burns and possible death. There are many everyday electronic devices that contain coin-sized lithium button batteries, including singing greeting cards, key fobs, thermometers and calculators. Parents should keep all products containing lithium batteries out of children’s reach. If your child swallows a lithium button battery seek emergency care immediately.

Learn more about the dangers of button batteries»

Suffocation – safety recommendations

The following safety recommendations can help prevent suffocation in young children:

**Special note to parents and caregivers

As of June 2011, the CPSC requires that all cribs manufactured and sold in the U.S. meet new standards. The new standards include improved slats, mattress supports and hardware and prohibit the traditional drop-side rail cribs. Learn more about the new requirements.

The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend the use of bumper pads and similar products because of their potential to cause suffocation, entrapment and strangulation of young infants.

Strangulation – safety recommendations

The following safety recommendations can help prevent strangulation in young children:

Injuries are the leading cause of death and disability to children in the United States. The Kohl's Injury Prevention Program at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia is dedicated to preventing injuries in children. Our multi-faceted program educates families about safety and offers safety devices to increase safety practices.

There are many safety products available to help “child-proof” your home. Visit the Kohl’s Safety Center to buy child safety products at low prices and to get free injury prevention information.

Reviewed by: Gina Duchossois
Date: April 2012

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