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What are the risks of playing with balloons for young children?
Q: What are the statistics and dangers of children playing with balloons? My daughter is 2½ years old and I do not allow her to have balloons because I worry they may break and that she may swallow or choke on them or become entangled in the balloon. My husband is aware of my concerns, but got balloons for her anyway.
Libby Jackson
A: Libby, you can explain to your husband that your concerns are justified and it’s best not to give your 2½-year-old balloons. Although balloons are popular at children’s birthday parties, they can be dangerous, and health authorities recommend that parents keep young children away from balloons.

According to the National SAFE KIDS Campaign, each year over 100,000 children under age 4 are treated in hospital emergency rooms for toy-related injuries, and 17 children die. Approximately one-third of the deaths result from choking; and one-third of the choking deaths result from latex balloons.

Children under age 4 are especially prone to choking injuries because they put things in their mouths, and their airways are so small that they can get easily plugged. Children can choke on balloons when they breathe them in when trying to blow up the balloon, or when they chew on deflated balloons or scraps of popped balloons. In fact, older children are just as likely as young children to choke on balloons. The Child Safety Protection Act requires warning labels about the dangers of choking on packages for balloons.

To prevent young children from choking on balloons:

  • Use mylar balloons instead of latex balloons.

  • If you use latex balloons, store them out of reach of children; don’t let children blow them up; and discard deflated balloons and pieces of popped balloons.

  • Always supervise young children when they are playing.

  • Consider taking a course with your husband that covers child safety, first aid, and CPR—it’s good for both of you to know how to keep your child safe.
Karen Sokal-Gutierrez M.D., M.P.H. Pediatrician