Breathing emergencies such as choking are a leading cause of injury-related death to Canadian children.

An estimated 44 children age 14 and under die every year in Canada from choking, suffocation and strangulation and another 380 are hospitalized for serious injuries. Almost half (48 per cent) of those hospitalizations are from choking on food.

Children who survive may suffer brain damage because they have been deprived of oxygen for a period of time. Choking on food is one of the major threats to breathing for young children.

Tips to prevent choking

Keep choking hazards away from children under three years of age, including:

Small objects

If an object fits through a cardboard toilet paper roll, it can cause a young child to choke. Puzzle pieces, toys, building blocks: all should be larger in those years when children put everything in their mouths. Read more about this topic in the Play Time section of our Home Safety information page.

Latex balloons

Close-up of coloured, deflated balloons on a wooden table

A piece of latex balloon can easily block a child’s airways and stop a child from breathing. Make sure to throw away broken balloon pieces immediately. Mylar (foil) balloons are a safer option. When these balloons break into small pieces, they do not block a child’s airway.

Close-up of finely chopped carrots on a cutting board

Nuts, popcorn, hot dogs, raw carrot sticks or chunks and other hard, crunchy foods

These are the most common causes of choking for young children. If you are serving a hot dog to your child, make sure to slice it lengthwise.

Raw pear, apple, celery and other hard fruits and vegetables

Young children do not have the teeth required to grind food down to a small, safe size. Fruits and vegetables should be pureed or finely chopped before serving to your child.