Young children can choke to death on whole grapes, doctors warn

Very young children can choke to death on whole grapes, warn doctors writing in the Archives of Disease in Childhood (ADC).

Foodstuffs account for over half the episodes of fatal choking among the under 5s, with grapes the third most common cause of food related choking after hot dogs and sweets. But public awareness of this potential hazard is not widespread, they say.

The airways of young children are small; they don’t have a full set of teeth to help them chew properly; their swallow reflex is underdeveloped; and they are easily distracted, all of which puts them at risk of choking, explain the authors.

Grapes tend to be larger than a young child’s airway. And unlike small hard objects, such as nuts, the smooth soft surface of a grape enables it to form a tight seal in an airway, not only blocking this completely, but also making it more difficult to remove without specialist equipment, they emphasise.

Responding to the research paper, Dr Julie-Ann Maney, of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said:

“Any injury, accident and death is a tragedy but it is even more so when that injury, accident or death could have been prevented. This paper highlights just how dangerous seemingly harmless items of food can be for young children if they are not eaten in the correct way.

“As a paediatrician working in a busy emergency department, sadly situations like those outlined in this paper are not all that uncommon. To prevent accidents like these from happening, I would urge all parents to cut food up into small pieces to avoid a seemingly harmless situation turning into a deadly one.”

To view the research paper, visit the ADC website.