Coins, toys, jewelry, button batteries, screws: Kids put all manner of things in their mouths, and adults are not doing a very good job of stopping them. The number of children seen in ERs after swallowing these types of objects has nearly doubled over two decades, according to a new study.
Researchers used the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, administered by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, to determine the number of kids under the age of 6 who were seen in emergency rooms across the United States after swallowing an object between 1995 and 2015.
More than 755,000 children – an average of 99 per day – swallowed objects and were taken to ERs over the 20-year study period. The annual rate jumped from 9.5 of every 10,000 children in 1995 to 18 of every 10,000 in 2015, an increase of more than 90%, according to the study, published Friday in the journal Pediatrics.
“Children in this age group are prone to putting objects in their mouths,” the authors explained, adding children are enticed by the colors, shapes and sizes of various objects.
Coins were the most commonly swallowed object, followed by toys, jewelry and batteries. Boys were more likely to swallow objects than girls: 53% vs 47%. Boys were also more likely to swallow screws and nails, whereas girls were more likely to swallow jewelry and hair products.
Within each category, there was a most frequently swallowed item. For coins, it was pennies; for toys, it was marbles; for jewelry, it was earrings; and for batteries, it was button batteries.
The vast majority – 97% – of the cases occurred at home, which the authors said is probably due to the accessibility of the types of objects.
In most cases, children who were seen in the ER were discharged, but 10% required hospitalization. The highest rates of hospitalizations occurred for children who swallowed coins.
In a close second for number of hospitalizations: batteries, which – along with magnets – pose severe risks if swallowed, the authors noted. Button batteries can become lodged in the esophagus and cause a type of injury that resembles a burn, which can then lead to death of tissue and a potential perforation. Magnets can rupture the walls of the intestine when more than one is ingested.
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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.
Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology recommend keeping small objects out of children’s reach, ensuring that child-resistant packaging is used and keeping particularly dangerous products such as small magnet toys off the market.