OBJECTIVES: To examine the frequency and nature of non-fatal asphyxiation and foreign body ingestion injuries among children in the state of Victoria, Australia, and to identify possible areas for prevention. METHODS: For children under 15 years, all Victorian public hospital admissions, July 1987 to June 1995, due to asphyxiation or 'foreign body entering through other orifice' (which includes ingestions), were reviewed. Emergency department presentations due to asphyxiation and foreign body ingestion provided information on circumstances of, and the type of foreign bodies involved in the injuries. RESULTS: The childhood average annual admission rate for asphyxiation was 15.1 per 100,000. Food related asphyxiation peaked in infants under 1 year, and declined to low levels by 3 years. The main foods involved were nuts, carrot, apple, and candy. The rate of non-food related asphyxiation was relatively constant to 3 years of age and then declined by 6 years. Mechanical suffocation was less common. The annual admission rate for 'foreign body entering through other orifice' was 31.7 per 100,000. These injuries peaked in 2-3 year olds then gradually declined. About 80% of these foreign body admissions were ingestions, with coins being the major object ingested. Admission rates for these causes remained constant over the eight years. Asphyxiation resulted in a higher proportion admitted and longer hospital stays. CONCLUSIONS: Prevention of suffocation and strangulation needs to focus on a safe sleeping environment and avoidance of ropes and cords, while foreign body asphyxiation and ingestion needs a focus on education of parents and child carers regarding age, appropriate food, risk of play with coins, and other small items. Legislation for toy small parts could be extended to those used by children up to the age of 5 years, and to other products marketed for children. Design changes and warning labels also have a place in prevention.
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