Airway obstruction, which includes choking, suffocation, and 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.
Infants and children under age 4 are particularly at risk for choking on food or small objects because their upper airways are smaller, they are less experienced in chewing food properly, and they tend to explore things with their mouths. In fact, airway obstruction is the leading cause of unintentional injury-related death among children under age 1. In addition, infants are at increased risk of suffocation and strangulation, because they may be unable to lift their heads or get out of tight places.
To protect your child from choking, suffocating, or strangulation, familiarize yourself with the dangers associated with each age group. Consider the following safety recommendations:
There are many ways the airways can become obstructed (blocked) requiring the emergency clinical care by a physician or other healthcare professional. Listed in the directory below are some other considerations, for which a brief overview has been provided.
If you cannot find the information in which you are interested, please visit the Safety and Injury Prevention Online Resources page in this Web site for an Internet/World Wide Web address that may contain additional information on that topic.
It is important to remember the health information found on this website is for reference only not intended to replace the advice and guidance of your healthcare provider. Always seek the advice of your physician with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your physician or 911 immediately.
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