Swallowed Objects: The Most Dangerous Ones

Children are naturally curious so we expect them to place discovered objects in their mouths.

Unfortunately, these objects are sometimes swallowed. In some cases, that can lead to injury or even death.

The peak age for this behavior is between 6 months and 4 years.

Most items pass right through a child within three days. Some, though, can go in the windpipe or cause problems on the way down.

A child who has an item lodged in the windpipe may start wheezing, have stridor or be unable to speak, cry or even cough.

CPR should be administered if the child cannot breathe or cough.

A healthcare provider and/or 911 should be called immediately.

Some small items can go lower down in the airways and not cause obvious symptoms. If in doubt, a caregiver should get the child checked medically.

If a swallowed object is stuck somewhere in the esophagus, the child may have the sensation that something is stuck in the throat.

He may have drooling, gagging, spitting or chest pain. A healthcare provider should be called in these situations.

Some items can cause blockages or can damage or even perforate the wall of the gut. Concerning symptoms include unexplained fevers, abdominal distention, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, rectal bleeding or rectal pain.

Medical help should be sought immediately for certain items that are swallowed, regardless of present symptoms.

These include magnets, sharp objects, coins that are quarter-sized or larger and especially batteries.

Ingestion of metal objects that are swallowed and items that do not pass through the body in about 24 hours should be investigated by a healthcare professional.

Magnets, when two or more are swallowed, can clamp together in the gastrointestinal system, causing blockages and tissue damage.

Sharp objects can sometimes cause GI damage, including perforations. Large objects can sometimes cause blockages.

A child is seen in the ER about every three hours in this country for battery ingestion.

The current that a battery can generate when exposed to saliva can cause a reaction that can start damaging esophagus tissue within two hours of swallowing one.

This can lead to severe injury and even death. The swallowing of a battery is definitely a medical emergency.

Dr. Charles Ison is a University of Kentucky graduate who has practiced in his hometown of Lexington since 1993. He is a partner in Pediatric and Adolescent Associates.