Swallowed toys, coins, batteries spark rise in kids ER visits

Henrietta Strickland
April 15, 2019

The number of young children who went to US emergency rooms because they swallowed toys, coins, batteries and other objects has almost doubled over the past two decades, a new study says.

Only 10 percent of all children who were brought to emergency room visits for foreign object ingestion were admitted to the hospital for longer observations.

"The sheer number of these injuries is cause for concern", said lead study author Dr. Danielle Orsagh-Yentis of Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

Children between the age of 1 and 3 years old make up 62 percent of all cases. Jewelry and batteries each accounted for another seven percent of cases.

Orsagh-Yentis noted that an increasing number of consumer products use potentially unsafe button-sized batteries, including TV remotes, digital thermometers and remote-controlled toys, which likely contributed to the increase.

Other objects kids can swallow include coins and toys.

Other objects kids swallowed included nails, screws, tacks, bolts, hair products, Christmas decorations, kitchen gadgets, and desk supplies.

The study wasn't a controlled experiment created to prove whether or how any specific factors might have impacted the surge in ER visits for foreign object injections.

While 90% of treated children were sent home without hospitalization, severe internal injuries and deaths have been reported.

Because the study looked only at children who were seen in ERs, the authors say the results may underestimate the total number of children who swallow objects; they may also see their primary care doctors or urgent care centers, or call poison control and be instructed to stay home.

Batteries and small high-powered magnets, sometimes marketed as desk toys for adults, are among the most risky items kids have put in their mouths. In the meantime, she said guardians should be more vigilant of the objects around their children. "Children are constantly exploring and understanding their environment by feeling things with their lips and mouths". If you have devices with those batteries, keep them out of kids' reach. The researchers then extrapolated the data to estimate that more than 759,000 kids visited ERs for swallowing something they shouldn't during the two-decade time period, at an average of 99 visits per day.

"And I tell families with young children not to have any high-powered magnet toys in the house", Lee continued.

Vomiting or abdominal pain can be a sign a child swallowed something that will require medical attention. "These are often very small, and if dropped on the ground, may not be very visible".

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