While it's extremely rare for a child to be admitted to the hospital after choking on food, tiny toy pieces or some other foreign body, young patients are "surprisingly likely" to die in the hospital, a new national study shows.
Dr. Rahul K. Shah of the Children's National Medical Center at The George Washington University Medical Center in Washington, DC, and colleagues found that about one in thirty children hospitalized for choking die.
The findings underscore the importance for parents of prevention, the researcher told Reuters Health. However, he added, parents should also know that if their child starts choking, "you certainly have time for the child to come to the hospital to be properly evaluated."
Parents or caregivers should first call 911, he advised, so emergency medical technicians can either treat the child or determine if he or she needs to go to the hospital.
About 2.5 million kids in the United States choke on foreign bodies each year, Shah and his team note in the Archives of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery, while as many as 2,000 children may choke to death every year.
Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) regulations on children's products have cut down on choking and choking deaths among children, they add; "however, the number of mortalities associated with these cases remains unacceptably high."
What's more, they add, one-quarter of products responsible for choking deaths actually meet CPSC standards.
To better understand how doctors handle choking on foreign bodies among young children, Shah and his team looked at the Kids Inpatient Database 2003, which sampled pediatric discharges from 3,438 hospitals in 36 states. The database included nearly 3 million discharges, and almost 2,800 admissions due to choking on a foreign body.
About 60 percent of the children were boys. The foreign objects involved were food in about 40 percent of cases, and non-food in the remaining 60 percent. Average age for children who choked on food was 2.5, while children who choked on objects other than food were 4.3 years old, on average. However, 55 percent of the patients were younger than two.
Kids spent an average of about six days in the hospital, and underwent two procedures, on average; the procedures performed most often were bronchoscopy (in which an instrument is inserted into the airways to visualize and remove the object, 52 percent), esophagoscopy (a similar procedure to visualize and remove objects within the esophagus, 28 percent) and tracheotomy (in which a hole is cut in the windpipe to allow the child to breathe, 2 percent).
Bronchoscopies actually found the foreign object in just 37 percent of cases, while for esophagoscopy 46 percent did.
Parents are fairly well aware that it's important not to let young children eat things they can choke on, like whole grapes, Shah noted. Food should always be cut up into pieces no larger than a half-inch across, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Toys that represent choking hazards should carry labels stating that children younger than three shouldn't play with them, the researcher noted, but the current findings suggest that older children may also be at risk. Parents need to be vigilant about potential hazards, even if they think their child is past the age of putting things in his or her mouth, he added.
"You don't want to let your guard down, because they are still kids."