Coins, toys, jewelry, and button batteries are landing children in the emergency room. Here's what you need to know.

By Rebecca Macatee
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April 15, 2019

With all the baby proofing and child-safe packaging we have today, you'd think there would be less opportunity for kids to swallow stuff they shouldn't. But as a new study published in Pediatrics shows, the number of children treated in emergency departments for ingesting foreign objects has nearly doubled over the course of 20 years.

A team of researchers at Nationwide Children's Hospital analyzed data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, which tracks product-related injuries treated at approximately 100 emergency departments across the United States. It found the number of children under age 6 who were treated in the ER for foreign-body ingestions increased a whopping 91.5 percent between 1995 and 2015.

The most frequently ingested items were coins (which accounted for 61.7 percent of the ER visits analyzed in this study), followed by toys (10.3 percent), jewelry (7 percent), and batteries (6.8 percent). Pennies were the most frequently ingested coin for all age groups (65.9 percent), and button batteries were by far the most common batteries ingested (85.9 percent).

Fortunately most children (89.7 percent) were able to be discharged after their suspected ingestion. Still, a visit to the emergency room isn't fun for anyone, and the doctors who conducted this study would like to see parents, product manufacturers, and physicians all working together to keep potentially dangerous products out of children's hands.

Pennies and button batteries are two of the main items that parents need to watch out for. Pennies made after 1982 contain highly corrosive zinc, and if one gets lodged in the esophagus, the lining may become irritated or damaged.

"Only an X-ray can determine whether the coin has lodged in his esophagus or traveled to the stomach, and if it's stuck in the esophagus, it will have to be removed," Charles Howell, M.D., a pediatric surgeon at MCG Children's Hospital, in Augusta, Georgia, previously told Parents.com.

Button batteries, which are commonly used in household items like remote controls, thermometers, and kids' toys, are particularly problematic because of their size. They're small enough to easily go down a child's throat, often without parents even noticing. They can also get stuck in the digestive tract and can burn a hole in the lining within hours.

The takeaway here? Little ones love putting things in their mouths, but parents should continue to try to keep those dangerous, swallowable items out of reach.

"That means keeping them at elevated locations so the children can't get to them as easily, keeping them in secure locations and, particularly, keeping them out of children's sight so they're not even thinking about them," Danielle Orsagh-Yentis, M.D., the lead author of the study and a pediatric gastroenterology motility fellow at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, told the New York Times.

And if you suspect child has swallowed any foreign object, call your pediatrician right away. Oftentimes, the object will pass through the digestive system without any problems. In some cases, though, medical intervention is necessary, and you should never take a wait-and-see approach.

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