Hot dogs are practically a parenting staple. Affordable, convenient and beloved by generations of kids, they are a go-to snack or meal for so many families. This time of year, hot dogs are everywhere, and in fact, July is National Hot Dog Month. We think this is an opportune time to remind readers that hot dogs are also the top cause of food-related choking emergencies in children.
According to Johns Hopkins, hot dogs were to blame in 17 percent of food-related choking incidents among kids under 3, followed by candy, grapes and nuts. If you’re concerned about your baby, toddler or young child choking and you serve hot dogs in your household, read on to learn more about why they are a hazard and what you can do about it.
So why do so many kids choke on hot dogs? For starters, young children are at a higher risk than adults of choking on any food. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a child will die about every five days from choking in the United States alone.
For one thing, kids’ airways are simply much smaller. Adults are often surprised at how small an object can be that may cause a child to choke. Additionally, very young children and toddlers don’t have a full mouth of teeth for chewing properly, and they simply haven’t yet perfected the anatomical process of swallowing. Further, young kids don’t have some of the cognitive abilities that adults take for granted when it comes to eating, such as knowing how big of a bite to take or how long to chew before swallowing. The result is a higher likelihood of choking on all kinds of foods.
When it comes to hot dogs in particular, though, the risk is all about the size and consistency. Hot dogs are basically the same size as a child’s windpipe, and their soft-but-solid texture makes them a perfect plug.
Hot dogs may be dangerous, but that doesn’t mean your child cannot enjoy them. Parents and caregivers simply need to give them due diligence.
When preparing a hot dog for your child, never cut it into “coin-shaped” slices. A child may think these are OK to swallow, when they are actually just right for plugging up the airway. Most doctors and experts agree that hot dogs should be at least halved or quartered into pieces no longer than a half-inch.
We recommend first slicing a hot dog lengthwise into four strips, then cutting those strips into smaller pieces of a half-inch or less. Dicing the hot dog in this way reduces the choking risk considerably.
As a bonus tip, we also recommend that you encourage your kids not to eat while running around or being active. They are much more likely to aspirate their food if they aren’t sitting and eating calmly. During these summer months, when hot dogs show up at every cookout and outdoor party where kids are playing, this is especially important. Eating calmly is a good habit that you can start developing in your kids at a young age.
Elsewhere on our blog, you can learn more about high-risk foods and other household choking hazards for kids. We also have tips for what to do if your baby needs the Heimlich maneuver or other anti-choking treatments, and we invite you to learn about our innovative life-saving device The Dechoker.
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