"Toys are affecting older kids, and that's really weird to me," Dr. Rahul Shah, a pediatric otolaryngologist at the Children's National Medical Center and the study's co-author, told AOL News. "Toy manufacturers need to wear their 'parent hat' more often than their 'business hat' when they're considering how to design these products."
Small toys aren't the only choking concern. Food was the cause of 42 percent of incidents while non-food items caused of the rest. The study, published this week in the Archives of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery, reviewed data from 2003 on pediatric patients who were admitted for choking to over 3,000 hospitals in 36 states. That year, 2.7 million children were treated for choking and nearly 2,000 died. The average age of the affected children was 3.5 years.
"The death rate, to me, is unbelievable," Shah told AOL News. "It just shows that choking is absolutely not a benign health issue, but an extremely serious one."
Lost lives are not the only cost associated with choking, according to the report. On average, children who were admitted to the hospital spent 6.4 days there and underwent two procedures to remove the object at a cost of $34,652.
Clearly, kids put things in their mouths and continue to do so well beyond the age of three. Careful parents avoid giving their children foods that are known choking hazards—hot dogs, grapes, carrots—or cut them into small pieces. It's also a good idea to get down to your child's eye-level and clear the floor of coins, toys and any other small object you see. And make it a habit to check your child's clothing and stuffed animals for loose snaps, buttons or other decorations.
As Shah told Reuters, "You don't want to let your guard down, because they are still kids."
What about hard candy? My little brother almost died choking on that when he was 3. And a 3 year old in our neighborhood choked to death on a piece of apple. For my kids, I cut hot dogs and carrots into long strips, slice apples thinly and quarter grapes. You can't be too careful!