Why Humans Choke Frequently

Because your larynx (voicebox) descended in your neck after your first birthday, you are a member of one of the only species on Earth that has frequent and dangerous choking episodes.[Ref:705]

When you were born, your soft palate fit between your tongue base and your epiglottis. This protected your airway when you swallowed. Then, between your first and second birthday, your larynx descended lower in your neck. This helped you develop your ability to speak. But the descent of your larynx also increased the shared space for breathing (blue arrow, below) and swallowing (green arrow, below); that increased yourrisk for choking.

Your risk for choking was greatest when you were a toddler, because you also didn’t have molars to grind crunchy foods down to a smooth paste. Also, as a toddler, you explored your surroundings by putting almost everything you could grasp into your mouth; many of these objects may have been choking hazards!

Even if a child or an adult has safely swallowed a certain type of food before, they can still choke on that same type of food later.

Choking is a health problem around the world. Unfortunately, not enough parents and other caregivers know about choking risks and prevention.

Did You Know?!

Choking and suffocation are responsible for almost 40% of unintentional injuries in infants under the age of one in Canada.[Ref:512]