Dr. Charles Ison: The Danger of Swallowed Objects

One of the ways that children explore the world is by putting things in their mouths.

And sometimes when they do this, kids  accidently swallow something.

Although most swallowed objects pass through the child on their own, certain situations arise that need medical attention. The peak age for swallowing foreign objects is between 6 months and 4 years of age.

About 40% of ingestions in children are unwitnessed. Less than 1% of children get into serious trouble with this.

Fortunately, most objects pass through a child within three days. Still, approximately 1,500 deaths a year in the U.S. are attributed to swallowing something.

If a swallowed foreign object lodges in the windpipe, the child may start wheezing, have stridor (a high pitch breath sound), or be unable to speak or cry.

If a child cannot breathe or cough, CPR should be initiated (including calling 911).

Smaller objects can make it down into the smaller airways before becoming lodged. These can cause localized wheezing, persistent coughing, or partial collapse of a lung segment (which can sometimes lead to pneumonia).

When in doubt, it is a good idea to have the child checked medically.

If an object becomes lodged in the esophagus, the child may have a feeling that something is stuck in the throat. He may have chest pain, drooling, gagging, spitting or unexplained irritability.

A foreign body may sometimes cause a blockage deeper in the stomach or intestines.

This can also sometimes cause damage to or perforation of the gut. Symptoms may include unexplained fevers, abdominal pain, abdominal distention, nausea, vomiting, rectal bleeding or rectal pain.

Certain swallowed objects always warrant seeking medical help. These include sharp objects, coins that are quarter-sized or larger, magnets and especially batteries.

Sharp objects can potentially cause gut perforations. Large objects are more likely to lead to gut obstruction.

Two or more magnets can clamp together if swallowed. This can lead to blockages or tissue damage.

The current that a swallowed battery can generate when exposed to saliva can start damaging esophageal tissue within two hours of being ingested. This can lead to severe injury and even death.

If a child swallows a battery, medical help should be sought immediately.

A child is seen in an emergency department in the U.S. every three hours on average for this. You will certainly not be alone.