Choking Hazards during the Holidays

The holidays are a wonderful time of the year, full of excitement, family, friends, and fun. Whether it is at an office Christmas party or gathered around the Thanksgiving dinner table, much of this time with loved ones centers around exchanging and opening gifts or eating delicious, home cooked meals. While it is certainly a very joyous time of the year, there are also extra precautions to take, during the holiday season to ensure safety and happiness for all, especially with young children.

Unfortunately, the holidays pose more choking hazards than at any other time of the year. Many of the most common choking hazards are surprising to a large number of people. While most of us commonly associate choking with food, the Consumer Product Safety Commission claims that there are many other threats to watch out for, ranging from children’s toys to holiday decorations around the house.

It is important to know common choking hazards and how to prevent choking from happening.

Holiday Object Hazards

Nothing is more exciting than watching children unwrap and enjoy new toys. There is a general rule of thumb, however, for what types of toys you should and should not let your child play with. If it is small enough to fit in an infant or toddler’s mouth, then it is deemed too small to permit them to have. Small objects, such as items found in dollhouses or miniature figurines, are high-risk toys that pose potential choking hazards because they are likely to block the airway. Toys that are made to be broken down into smaller parts or easily destroyed are not the best options for younger children.

Trees and Decorations

Not only are small toys a choking hazard to look out for during the holidays, light bulbs, tinsel, icicles, tree ornaments, or any relatively small decorations are also a threat to younger children. It is imperative to be careful to keep things picked up, because any small object can become a fatal choking hazard if it lands in the wrong hands.

The needles of holiday trees are considered highly dangerous choking hazards because they can cause painful lacerations in the mouths and throats of those who swallow them. Angel hairs, which are often made from finely spun glass, and ornament hangers are other objects found on a holiday tree which, if ingested, may cause cuts, irritation, and damage that could become fatal.

These threats are easily avoidable by checking warning labels, making sure not to leave small objects lying around the house, and making older children aware of choking risks. One can also use the paper towel test before letting any child have a toy. If it is small enough to fit inside a paper towel roll, small children should not be permitted to play with it.

Holiday Food Hazards

In adults, the most common cause of choking is talking while eating. While the holidays are naturally a social time of the year, and it is easy to become distracted, it is best to keep your thoughts to yourself until after safely swallowing your food. Some of the most common types of holiday foods that pose the highest choking threats are:

  • Hotdogs
  • Popcorn
  • Peanuts
  • Hard Candy
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Meats
  • Cheeses

Hotdogs are by far the most dangerous choking hazard, because of their texture and round shape that lets them lodge nicely in the airway. To prevent the risk of choking, cut hot dogs in half lengthwise so it is no longer tubular in shape.

Popcorn and Candy

Popcorn and peanuts should not be given to any child under the age of four. These small delicacies are often found in dishes around the house, or on holiday trays or spreads, and can easily be accessed by children. Make sure to keep popcorn and peanuts (while heart healthy) as far out of reach as possible.

All candy, whether gooey or hard, poses a choking hazard for anyone, although choking on hard candy is more prevalent than choking on a caramel. A way to reduce this choking risk is to make sure you are not moving when you are consuming candy.


Like hotdogs, carrots, and grapes are choking hazards due to their round shape that easily clogs the airway. To be honest, any type of produce can easily obstruct the airway, so it is crucial to cut sections of any of these items, like apples or oranges, in half lengthwise to reduce the risk of choking.

Meats and Cheese

As popcorn and peanuts are often displayed, meats and cheeses can be found on holiday spreads and trays, too. Meats and cheeses are known for being easily lodged in the throat, so they should all be cut to proper portions. It is important to keep the meat and cheese trays away from small children.

Final Thoughts

While choking hazards may seem intimidatingly frequent and hard to control, they can easily be avoided by taking the proper precautions. Do not become ridden with anxiety during the holiday season, but rather prepare yourself by staying tidy, being careful to eat responsibly, and testing out toys before giving them to your children.

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