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Risk of death from choking - a perspective

Clinical bottom line

Risk of choking is very low in children. The risk is highest in the oldest, but even in the oldest old the annual risk of death by choking is less than 1 in 1,000.

Risk of death

All of us will choke from time to time - eating too fast or too much, a cold, a laugh, something that surprises us, or no good reason. Few will die. However, fear of choking, especially in the young, has meant a rush of safety notices, especially catching Bandolier's eye in restaurants in New York city. The implication of these notices was that children were at particular risk, so we thought we would look for the evidence.

Data were available by age from the National Safety Council in the USA. If you root around on their website you can find a downloadable report on all causes of deaths in the USA - slightly more readable than the British version that uses codes. It allows calculations of risk in terms of 1 in X per year.


Figure 1 shows the results for choking deaths, with the annual risk of death in a motor vehicle for a comparison. Choking deaths are clearly age-related, while those in motor vehicles, by and large, are not. The greatest risk of death by choking is in the oldest old.

Figure 1: Annual risk of death by choking or motor vehicle in the USA, by age


Even in the oldest old, the risk of death by choking is less than 1 in 1000 per year.


National Safety Council, USA, 2005-6. (