Safety Alert: Number of Young Kids Swallowing Batteries and Coins Has Doubled

Don't overlook this common danger
Child picking up coin from table

Most kids go through that dreaded phase. You know, the one where they put anything and everything into their mouth. Stray Legos. Dried bits of food. Fuzz.

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And sometimes that curiosity leads to swallowing objects they shouldn’t. According to a recent study, the number of kids under age 6 who accidentally swallowed foreign objects has doubled in the past two decades.

“What they found was that about 800,000 kids — so almost a million kids — came in to the emergency room for foreign body ingestion,” says pediatrician Eva Kubiczek-Love, MD, who did not take part in the study. “And the rate of ingestion was going up, particularly for coins and batteries.”

Why coins are so dangerous to young kids

Your spare pocket change is hazardous because it’s so common. It can be easy to look at those pennies, nickles, dimes and quarters and not think that they can be deadly to a child.

But Dr. Kubiczek-Love says coins can easily lodge in the airway and the esophagus.

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Ingesting a coin can lead to impaction, which is what happens when the coin isn’t passed through the stool. Then it has to be surgically removed.

Button batteries are also to blame

The study also showed the number of button battery ingestions has risen by more than 90%.

Button battery ingestion is especially dangerous, Dr. Kubiczek-Love says, because the batteries can make holes in the esophagus and in the intestines, leading to tissue damage and even death.

Parents need to be aware of what objects in their home contain button batteries, and always keep them out of a child’s reach, she advises.

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“The number one recommendation made in the study was to make sure that you use some sort of child-proofing device,” Dr. Kubiczek-Love says. “If you have a button battery, in a car key or another device, make sure that it’s really tightly screwed in.”

Parents should always have the number for poison control in a cell phone (1.800.222.1222) so that it’s handy at all times.

If you suspect your child has swallowed a foreign object, always call poison control right away, in addition to calling the child’s doctor or 9-1-1.

Complete results of the study can be found in Pediatrics.

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