Poisons & Choking

The American Academy of Pediatrics provides helpful information on this topic through their website www.healthychildren.org. Click their link below for tips.


Except for teenage suicide (a subject beyond the scope of this discussion) choking and poisoning and are predominantly hazards of infancy and toddlerhood.  This grows out of the child’s normal curiosity and hand-mouth behavior.  Obviously, the first step in preventing such accidents is limiting a child’s access to dangerous materials such as small hard objects, medications, and cleaning fluids.  Don’t trust cabinet latches – even those designed and marketed as “child-proof”.  Any two year old can outsmart these devices; or even find Mommy’s keys and use them.  Locks or latches are thus adjuncts in prevention at best. Your primary measure should be keeping these materials out of reach and out of sight.  What the toddler does not see, he does not think about – and does not try to get to as a result.

Choking and poisoning will never be fully preventable. You may be visiting a home that has not been “child proofed” or an older child may leave something around.  It only takes seconds for small hands to get hold of things.  All parents should therefore receive training in both CPR and the Heimlich maneuver.   In this area, courses are offered by the American Red Cross, the American Heart Association, as well as the local hospitals.  Of particular note in choking is that NO intervention is the BEST intervention as long as the child can still cough, make some noise, or breath at all. In such circumstances, the foreign body is often in the food pipe, not the wind pipe, and attempts by you to dislodge it may just pop it into the wind pipe – a much more life threatening situation.  The child’s own airway clearing mechanisms such as coughing, gagging and vomiting are far safer and more effective than anything you could do.  Outside help must be reserved for those who have truly stopped breathing.

With regard to poisoning, it is important to know or have available the number of the Poison Control Hotline, 1-800-222-1222 (this number has changed – it is now the same nationwide and will connect you to the local Poison Control Center).  Program this number into the speed dial of both your home and cellular phones.  If the child is conscious, call the Hotline.  Be prepared to tell them your name, location, age (and preferably weight) of the child, what and how much you think (s)he took, and when you think (s)he took it.  Poison control will tell you if further medical attention (e.g. by your pediatrician or at an emergency room) is necessary.  

Please also see Poisoning Instructons in the Acute Illness Guide.