I can still remember the flavor, a synthetic, buttery and sugary confection that was velvet-like and somewhat cloying, and I can still remember the terror of having this benign sweetness blocking my airway. It was a butterscotch candy (the round variety routinely wrapped in brightly colored cellophane with resplendent ponytail twists on either side) and moments earlier it was a yet to be unwrapped treat that I had been holding out for, and now it was something I desperately wanted out of my throat.
I was probably choking for no more than 10 seconds when my mother took the necessary action of doing some modified form of the Heimlich and getting the darn thing out of my throat. The sight of the cracked and broken canary yellow candy resting in the sink basin served as a reminder never to allow one of those butterscotch candies to pass through my lips ever again.
I was lucky, as I had a parent there to help me, and my choking incident was relatively uneventful (but obviously eventful enough to recall some 30 years later), however many of these incidents don’t end so well. In 2000, 160 children died from an obstruction of the respiratory tract, and many of those obstructions were caused by food.
The ten foods that pose the highest choking risk for young children are hot dogs, peanuts, carrots, boned chicken, candy, meat, popcorn, fish with bones, sunflower seeds and apples.
A child is innocently gobbling down bits of a hot dog when a cylindrical chunk gets lodged in the back of his/her throat and then the panic sets in. The reason for this phenomenon is because children under 4 are at the highest risk, not only because their airways are small (the back of a toddler’s throat narrows to the diameter of a straw) but also because of the way their eating abilities develop. Front teeth usually come in at 6 or 7 months — so babies can bite off a piece of food — but the first molars, which grind food down, do not arrive until about 15 months, and second molars around 26 months.