Babies love balloons. They’re popular at birthday parties and are often given to children at parks, fairs, circuses and even at some restaurants. Parents need to remember, though, that balloons pose some dangers for little ones, especially babies and toddlers. In fact, the Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that balloons account for more suffocation deaths than any other children’s product or toy.
Choking and Suffocation
Children sometimes inhale balloons by mistake when blowing them up, causing choking or suffocation. They sometimes chew on balloons or stretch them across their mouths and try to blow bubbles in them. Babies and toddlers tend to put all kinds of things in their mouths, including deflated balloons or pieces of broken balloons. For these reasons, the Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends never allowing children under the age of 8 to play with deflated balloons unsupervised. The CPSC considers fully inflated balloons safe, but of course balloons burst easily and parents or guardians should always supervise babies carefully around balloons.
Many balloons are made from latex, and latex balloons pose the greatest risk of choking and suffocation. In addition, some people are allergic to latex, or more specifically, to a certain protein in latex. According to MayoClinic.com, symptoms of latex allergy range from mild itching and skin rash to coughing, wheezing and difficulty breathing. In severe cases, loss of consciousness and even death occurs. Keep latex balloons away from all babies known to have latex allergies.
Some children, adolescents and even adults like to inhale helium from helium balloons because of its effect on the vocal cords: it makes people talk in a high, squeaky voice that sounds like a cartoon character. Inhaling helium poses a serious danger, though, because helium cuts off the oxygen supply in the blood. The National Inhalant Prevention Coalition explains that the federal government does not collect statistics on injury or death resulting from inhaling helium, but in Florida alone in 2010, nine people died as a result of inhaling helium. Supervise children and babies around helium balloons and never allow them to inhale helium from the balloons.
Use Mylar balloons instead of latex to reduce the risk of suffocation and allergic reaction. Mylar doesn’t conform to the shape of the mouth and throat as latex does, making suffocation less likely, but babies can still choke on pieces of broken Mylar balloons. Remove any pieces of broken balloons from your child's reach immediately. Keep deflated balloons out of reach of babies and toddlers. Adults should blow up balloons for children and always supervise babies and little ones when playing with balloons.