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Airway Obstructions Have High Death Rate for Young Children

Though airway obstructions in young children occur less often than other types of injuries, the death rate is higher, according to new research from Children’s National Medical Center. The findings are published in the April issue of Archives of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery, an affiliate of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The study, led by pediatric otolargyngologists Sukgi Choi, MD, and Rahul Shah, MD, found that airway obstructions in young children had a low incidence but a 3.4 percent mortality rate. The team compiled the information from a national database of children’s hospitalizations in 2003, which consisted of nearly 3,000 hospitalizations for airway obstructions.

“These findings are concerning and speak to the need for better education to prevent these airway obstructions from occurring,” said Dr. Choi. “Our hope is to prevent these injuries from occurring.”

Children’s National Medical Center offers the following tips to minimize choking hazards:

Supervise all meals and have children eat at the table or in a high chair.
Small foods, such as grapes and hot dogs, should be cut into very small pieces.
Avoid small toys, like balls or marbles.
Consider using a small-parts tester, or an empty toilet paper roll, to test the size of toys. Children under age 3 should not be given toys that fit completely into the cylinder.

“As parents, we must take steps to prevent these types of injuries from happening,” added Dr. Shah. “We must also work with our governing agencies to ensure appropriate regulations are in place.”

The study found that the average age of children hospitalized for airway obstructions was 3.5 years old, which 55 percent of the patients under 2. Foreign bodies were classified as food and non-food items, with food items causing 42 percent of the airway obstructions.

Children’s National Medical Center, located in Washington, DC, is a leader in the development of innovative new treatments for childhood illness and injury. Children’s has been serving the nation’s children for more than 135 years. Children’s National is consistently ranked among the best pediatric hospitals by U.S.News & World Report and the Leapfrog Group. For more information, visit Children’s Research Institute, the academic arm of Children’s National Medical Center, encompasses the translational, clinical, and community research efforts of the institution. Learn more about Children’s Research Institute at

Emily Dammeyer | EurekAlert!
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