Latex balloons are festive and colorful, but they are also the leading cause of choking deaths in children in the U.S. About 38 percent of all toy-related choking deaths reported between 2001 and 2014 involved balloons. Most of the balloon accidents involved children under the age of 6, but even older children should be warned of the dangers of chewing or sucking on balloons.
Accidents involving balloons happen in a few ways. Some children suck balloons into their mouths while trying to inflate them. Others swallow balloons they were sucking or chewing on. Even pieces of broken balloons pose a serious potential choking hazard because they are easily sucked into the throat and lungs.
Uninflated balloons and pieces of broken balloons are particularly hazardous because of the way they can stretch and mold to a child’s throat, making it impossible to breathe. Balloons are also very hard to remove from a child’s mouth or throat because of their smooth, slippery texture. Usual first-aid methods, like back slaps, the Heimlich maneuver (abdominal thrusts), or finger sweeps of the child’s mouth often do not work.
Prevention is the best way to keep a child from choking on a balloon. Latex balloons are not recommended for children younger than 8 years old. If a balloon breaks, collect the pieces immediately and dispose of them out of the reach of children. Shiny foil balloons, commonly known as Mylar balloons, can be a safer choice, but adult supervision is recommended with any type of balloon.
Because it is impossible to prevent all choking episodes among children, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends CPR and first aid instruction for parents, teachers, and child care providers.
St. Louis Children’s Hospital offers Friends & Family CPR classes for parents and child care providers. To register for a class call 314.454.KIDS (5437) or 800.678.KIDS, then press three.