The causes, classification, and prevention of mechanical asphyxial death in children were examined. The Office of Population Censuses and Surveys (OPCS) identified children, under 15 years of age, who had died as a result of choking, suffocation, or strangulation in England and Wales during the years 1990 and 1991. Cases in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) codes of E911-3, E953, E963, and E983 were selected and case details from HM coroners' records and the death certificates were extracted. The OPCS identified 136 children (99 boys, 37 girls) in the two year period, 65% were under 3 years of age. The children were classified as dying from choking (21 cases), aspirating gastric contents (39 cases), suffocation (29 cases), strangulation (11 cases), and hanging (36 cases). The strangulation cases could be further subdivided into a group of 12 younger children who were suspended from ligatures around the home and a group of 21 boys (8-14 years) who died of self initiated hanging. Overall, 11 children were deliberately killed and 31 children died in beds or cots. Children whose deaths are classified as being due to aspiration of vomit appear to be cases of the sudden infant death syndrome or background medical conditions. This study suggests the need for advice on maintaining a safe sleeping environment. Only one child choked on a toy and European Standards for Toy Safety appear to have been successful. The prevention of hanging in the group of older boys needs further exploration.
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