October 01, 2019

Are there ways to prevent choking?

Q: In your July 2019 article on choking, you covered how to respond to choking. Are there ways to prevent it? It seems like when I eat with friends, someone always gets something down the wrong pipe.

A: This is a great question for older adults, because most deaths due to choking occur in adults over age 65. Older adults are at higher risk because they are more likely to have swallowing difficulty, more likely to have greater difficulty chewing due to dentures, or more likely to live alone. Add these to other choking risks including:

  • Using sedatives, such as sleeping pills
  • Consuming too much alcohol
  • Eating too fast
  • Eating while laughing or talking
  • Eating while walking or moving

You may be able to reduce your risk of choking by:

  • Seeking care for swallowing difficulty — Normal changes with aging reduce swallowing efficiency, but age alone doesn't cause swallowing problems. Persistent swallowing difficulty signals the need for a prompt doctor's evaluation. Older adults often adapt to swallowing difficulty by eating slower or chewing longer, thus delaying a recognition that an evaluation is needed.
  • Visiting your dentist regularly if you have dentures — Dentures often require adjustments to keep them functioning optimally. Your dentist can also provide tips for proper denture care to keep your dentures working effectively.
  • Being cautious with alcohol or medications with a sedative effect — Older adults often experience a stronger sedative effect from certain drugs than do younger adults. It's even more pronounced when combined with alcohol, as alcohol itself is a sedative. Talk to your doctor...