My Toddler Swallowed a Penny—Now What?

Kids will put almost anything in their mouth. Here's what to do if your little one swallows a foreign object, such as a coin, art supplies, button battery, or fluoride toothpaste.

Toddlers and babies put everything in their mouths—it's how they explore the world around them. Fortunately, 80 to 90% of the non-food items kids swallow pass through the digestive system without any problems.

"Surprisingly, even sharp things such as tacks can safely go through the stomach and the rest of the gastrointestinal tract, which are lined with mucus and are incredibly pliable," says Mark Del Beccaro, M.D., associate director of the emergency division at Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center, in Seattle.

Still, if your child swallowed a coin—or something equally alarming—you may understandably wonder how long it will take to pass and how much harm the object may cause. Here are some of the most household items your child might swallow and what to do if it happens.

Common Household Swallowing Hazards

These common items may cause more trouble when swallowed than you'd think.

Pennies and other coins

The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that coins are among the most frequent items ingested by children under the age of 6 and that across all age groups, the most frequently ingested coin was a penny. Pennies made after 1982 contain highly corrosive zinc, and if one gets lodged in the esophagus, the lining may become irritated or damaged. Avoid this type of accident by keeping your purse and any loose change out of your child's reach.

"If your child has swallowed a penny, or any coin, take [them] to your pediatrician or the emergency room right away," says Charles Howell, M.D., a pediatric surgeon at MCG Children's Hospital in Augusta, Georgia. "Only an X-ray can determine whether the coin has lodged in [the] esophagus or traveled to the stomach, and if it's stuck in the esophagus, it will have to be removed."

If your child has swallowed a coin, how long it will take to pass will depend on whether or not it becomes obstructed. That said, most times, kids will pass a coin in under a week and typically within 48 hours. Still, it is a good idea to call your doctor, especially if you have not noticed the coin in your child's diaper or toilet after going.

Art supplies

Brightly colored crayons, beads, and other art supplies are especially attractive to preschoolers. Luckily, most of these items are nontoxic and small enough to pass through the digestive system. According to Poison Control, most art supplies for kids are nontoxic, but they can still present some serious dangers if swallowed:

  • Latex: Some kids are allergic to latex and have serious reactions to paints and other supplies that contain it.
  • Erasers: Erasers might not be toxic, but they can get lodged in the throat.
  • Chalk: Chalk can easily break into small pieces, making it a choking hazard.
  • Pencils: Pencils aren't filled with lead (it's actually graphite, which is non-toxic), but the metal case around erasers, the eraser, and small shards of wood are all choking hazards.

Poison Control suggests keeping art supplies out of reach of young kids and supervising during craft time to prevent accidents. Additionally, it is smart to go through your supplies and toss anything that has expired, dried up or otherwise appears broken or dangerous.

Button batteries

Button batteries are small enough to pass easily down the throat but can get caught in the esophagus or stuck somewhere else in the digestive tract. According to Poison Control, if a lithium battery button is not removed within two hours, it can cause severe, life-threatening burns in the esophagus. If your child swallows a battery, go to the emergency room immediately.

Here are some tips to minimize the risk of your child swallowing a button battery:

  • Check all remotes, toys, and battery-operated gadgets to ensure a screw secures the battery pack.
  • Remove anything with batteries that can be easily opened by small hands.
  • Keep all batteries locked away from children.
  • If anyone in your home uses hearing aids, keep the batteries in a safe place, away from small hands.

Fluoride toothpaste

It's fine if your child swallows the recommended amount of fluoride toothpaste (usually a pea-sized amount). But if your child ingests a greater portion, you might consider contacting poison control (though they'll likely just experience stomach upset).

Each year Poison Control gets calls from worried caregivers because their child has swallowed fluoride. Although every call to Poison Control is case-by-case, they will typically advise giving the child milk or dairy to prevent a tummy ache since the calcium binds with the fluoride.

Here are a few tips to prevent fluoride poisoning:

  • Teach your child to use the appropriate amount of toothpaste; for kids 6 and under, that is usually a pea-sized portion.
  • Poison Control suggests teaching kids that toothpaste is medicine for the teeth and not food.
  • Supervise kids as they brush their teeth, and keep their dental hygiene products out of reach when they are not in use.


There is an old wives tale that says that swallowing gum is dangerous because it stays in your digestive system forever. While that is not true—a human digestive tract is a powerful machine!—there is some wisdom in warning kids not to swallow gum.

Small amounts of chewing gum will pass normally through the digestive tract. However, in rare cases, gum can get stuck around hard foods and create a blockage along the digestive tract, which can become dangerous.

Call your doctor if your child swallows gum and experiences any of the following symptoms:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Cramping
  • Constipation
  • Vomiting
  • Feeling "full" after eating very little or nothing

Jewelry, magnets, and small metal objects

Babies and toddlers are fascinated by jewelry, and they can pull off your earring or necklace charm and gulp it down in seconds. Ditto for anything shiny, like small metal objects, including magnets, safety pins, and other small metal objects:

  • Jewelry: Small metal pieces can cut the esophagus or digestive tract lining.
  • Magnets: The biggest danger is when more than one magnet is swallowed, as they can tear through flesh trying to stick together. Or if a magnet and a piece of metal are swallowed together. The magnet can also create a blockage, potentially causing serious or even life-threatening complications.
  • Safety pins and small metal objects: Metal is never a safe material to swallow as it can cause internal cuts or tears, which can raise the risk of serious complications.

Metallic confetti

Shiny and colorful, the tiny confetti that comes with party favors and birthday cards can look like candy to young children. Drooling and gagging are signs this glossy stuff may be stuck to the surface of the esophagus.

Illustration and Animation by Yeji Kim

Peanuts and small snacks

Don't give peanuts to kids under 5, as they can easily block a child's airway. Other dangerous snacks include popcorn, hard candies, and large chunks of food. Cut grapes, hot dogs, and raw carrots into smaller-than-bite-size pieces. Don't let children eat whole cherries, as they can swallow the pit.


Your child might swallow a baby tooth if it becomes loose and dislodged. Most of the time, swallowed teeth won't cause any issues.

My Child Swallowed a Foreign Object—Now What?

If your child swallows any other foreign object before you can stop them, don't take a wait-and-see approach. Call your pediatrician right away. Chances are the item will make it out the other end within 24 to 48 hours, so the doctor will likely tell you to check your child's stools every time they go to the bathroom.

If the object doesn't pass or your child begins to have difficulty breathing, drooling, choking, vomiting, or abdominal pain, call your doctor again or go directly to the emergency room. Never force food, drink, or your finger down your child's throat, and don't blindly sweep a finger in their mouth, which can push the object farther down.

Not sure whether your child has swallowed something dangerous? If you notice any of these red flags, take action:

  • If your child has trouble breathing, speaking, swallowing, or crying, do the Heimlich maneuver.
  • If their breathing is labored, if there's excessive drooling, gagging, or vomiting, or if they have a severe stomachache, call 911 or go to the emergency room immediately.
  • Fever, cough, and excessive mucus in the throat and nose could indicate a respiratory infection from a swallowed item. Call your pediatrician.

Key Takeaway

Even the most attentive parents can find themselves with a kid who has swallowed something they shouldn't have. While you should always call the pediatrician when your child swallows a foreign object, most of the time, it will pass through the digestive tract on its own with few issues. If your child exhibits any symptoms such as abdominal pain, bleeding, vomiting, or constipation, however, seek immediate medical attention.

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  1. Foreign-Body Ingestions of Young Children Treated in US Emergency Departments: 1995-2015. Pediatrics. 2019.

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