April 15, 2020

Is It Bad If My Child Swallows Popcorn Kernels?

A digestive disease expert explains

Child excited about eating popcorn

Q: Help! My toddler swallowed a handful of popcorn kernels. Should I be concerned?

A: Popcorn is generally considered a healthy snack food, given all of the candy and high-fructose containing snacks on the market.

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But be cautious when giving popcorn to kids — especially to very young children — due to the risk of choking. The American Academy of Pediatrics includes popcorn on its choking-risk list for children under age 4.

Older children and adolescents shouldn’t ingest large handfuls of the unpopped “old maid” kernels either. Besides being a choking hazard, crunching them can damage teeth. In severe cases, swallowing them can cause a mass collection in the intestinal tract, known as a “bezoar.” Small bezoars may pass on their own or with the help of medication, while sizeable ones may require surgery.

If your child develops abdominal pain after eating a large amount of unpopped kernels, call your pediatrician.

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The bottom line: Don’t entice a young child with popcorn. And if you’re munching away, only eat those kernels that are fully popped.

— Pediatric gastroenterologist Deborah Goldman, MD

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