Popcorn kills toddler in creche

Popcorn can be dangerous for toddlers

A TODDLER choked to death on a popcorn kernel she found at her creche, an inquest heard yesterday.

Lauren Meehan-O’Byrne was just 18 months old when she died at Temple Street Children’s Hospital on March 19 last year, having never recovered from the incident five days previously.

Dublin coroner Dr Brian Farrell is calling on the HSE to ban popcorn from all pre-school facilities in the wake of the incident.

Lauren and a number of other infants had been making their way from the toddler room to the dining room at the creche for playtime when childcare assistant Sabrina Bennis noticed that the 18-month-old was coughing.

She patted her on the back but the cough became worse and then Lauren suddenly inhaled as though she could not breathe. Co-worker Carol Blake attempted the Heimlich manoeuvre but this did not work.

Paramedic Mark O’Sullivan told the court that when he arrived Lauren was unresponsive and pulseless.

Several attempts were made to clear her airway before he decided to insert a tube. This was successful and Lauren was then transferred to the Midwestern Regional Hospital in Limerick. An operation was carried out to remove a popcorn kernel, which was lodged so far down Lauren’s trachea that it was not visible to the naked eye.

Lauren was transferred to Temple Street that evening. However, she had suffered extensive brain damage having been deprived of oxygen, and never recovered. She died five days later when life support was withdrawn.

The court heard that there were currently no regulations preventing creches and pre-schools from giving popcorn to young children. HSE guidelines only recommend that snacks like popcorn are not given to children under five years old to prevent the possibility of choking.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has issued a very stern warning regarding the health risks that popcorn poses to young children.

The American Academy of Pediatrics undertook an extensive study about popcorn and children. The study revealed that time and time again, popcorn posed an extremely serious threat to the safety of younger children. The popcorn kernel and the popcorn hull both pose a major risk of choking when they are consumed by young children.

The choking risk associated with popcorn kernels and hulls and small children is so significant that it does lead to death in some instances.

When it comes to feeding popcorn to children, infants naturally should never be given popcorn as a food. This applies even to those infants who otherwise have started eating solid food products. The fact of the matter is that many parents hand off little bags of popcorn to their toddlers. The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly condemns this practice. A significant number of toddlers have ended up choking on popcorn, some of these children even dying as a result.

There is not absolute age at which younger children should be permitted to eat popcorn. The size and maturity of a particular child plays a role in making this determination. But again, it is far better to play it safe than be sorry.