The Number Of Kids Swallowing Foreign Objects Nearly Doubled Since 1995

by Wendy Wisner
Originally Published: 
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I don’t know about you, but when my kids were in the “put everything in their mouth” stage of life, I was a nervous wreck.

There was the time my baby crawled up to the doormat (I had no idea he could crawl that far yet), lifted up the mat, scooped up a handful of delicious dried-up mud we hadn’t cleaned up yet – and downed it all in one gulp. Fun times.

Or the time that same kid climbed the bathroom sink so he could reach the top shelf of the medicine cabinet to help himself to the “little purple pills” (i.e., Benadryl) he thought were candy. Thankfully, I caught him in time and he’d only popped one in his mouth at that point. Still, absolutely terrifying, because he totally would have ingested the whole packet of Benadryl if I hadn’t confiscated it in time.

Each time another mini swallowing emergency happened with one of my kids, it took me totally by surprise. I immediately took precautions to make sure nothing of the sort happened again, but I was definitely lucky, because I had more than one near miss.

Well, it turns out my kids aren’t the only hellions out there. Little kids swallow foreign objects all the damn time – from small toys, coins, jewelry, to those tiny button batteries found in items like remote controls and thermometers. According to a newly published study in Pediatrics, this appears to be a growing problem, with rates of kids swallowing foreign objects nearly doubling since 1995.


The study, conducted by researchers at the Center for Injury Research and Policy and the Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, analyzed data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS). They were looking at how many kids aged 6 and under were admitted to emergency rooms for foreign object ingestion.

“Between 1995 and 2015, nearly 800,000 children less than 6 years of age were estimated to have sought care for foreign body ingestions in US emergency departments – an average of 99 children each day,” Dr. Danielle Orsagh-Yentis, one of the study leaders, tells Scary Mommy.

The number of foreign objects ingested per 22,000 kids under six years old nearly doubled in that time period, according to the study. In 1995, about 61 kids per day were found to have swallowed foreign objects, whereas it was an average of about 118 per day in 2015.

The vast majority of swallowing incidents occurred in kids aged 1-3 years old (yep, the toddler years are totally prime time for those types of incidents). Coins were the most frequently swallowed. Small toys came in second, and jewelry and batteries tied for third.

OK, so why the sudden increase over the past two decades? Are parents becoming more negligent? Are kids becoming more adventurous? What gives?

Dr. Orsagh-Yentis tells Scary Mommy that while her research team wasn’t able to come to any hard conclusions about the reasons for this, the increase in swallowing cases likely has to do with the fact that more retailers are selling toys and technology with tiny parts, and we are filling our homes with them.

“This number likely reflects the accessibility of these objects, as coins, jewelry, and toys are readily found around the home,” she says. “Some of the products investigated in this study are increasingly being utilized in household items or have seen an advent on the marketplace.”

An additional factor, says Dr. Orsagh-Yentis, is that the dataset the researchers used in the study just might have picked up on more of these cases – i.e., kids were always swallowing this much junk, but we are only becoming aware of just how bad it is now.

“The dataset used in this study (NEISS) is also likely capturing more foreign body ingestions seen in emergency departments than in years prior,” she explained.

Dr. Orsagh-Yentis and her team of researchers are most concerned about the increase in battery ingestion. Button battery ingestion only makes up 7% of the cases studied, but the number of cases increased 150-fold over the 21-year period the researchers were studying. Not only that, button battery ingestion comprised 86% of battery ingestions by kids.

Button battery ingestion is super freaking dangerous and absolutely terrifying. As the AAP explains: “When lodged in the body, the electric current in a button battery rapidly increases the pH of the tissue adjacent to the battery, causing significant tissue injury even within two hours.”

If not treated promptly, button battery ingestion can result in “esophageal perforation, mediastinitis, vocal cord paralysis, tracheoesophageal fistula, esophageal stricture, or death caused by a significant hemorrhage of an aortoesophageal fistula.” Kids have tragically died from button battery ingestion as well.

So yes, we parents must take all of this with utmost seriousness, and let a study like this be a wake-up call to get even more vigilant about our home safety plans.

And how should we go about it? Dr. Orsagh-Yentis offered some some safety advice for all parents to follow:

1. Practice safe storage: “[Parents] should keep small items, especially button batteries, high-powered magnets, and loose change up, away, and out of sight of young children,” says Dr. Orsagh-Yentis.

2. Check age recommendations on toys: “Parents should also check age recommendations on toy packaging to ensure a toy is appropriate for their child’s age,” Dr. Orsagh-Yentis advises. “Parents should also read and follow manufacturers’ instructions for toy assembly and use.”

3. Teach your kids about the risks of putting foreign objects in their mouths: “Parents can start talking to their children about the risks of putting non-food items in their mouths when the kids are toddlers,” Dr. Orsagh-Yentis suggests. “Vigilance is still of paramount importance, though, and these items should be kept in secure locations out of their children’s reach.”

And what should you do if your child swallows a foreign object despite all the precautions you’ve taken? If your child swallows a foreign object, call your pediatrician for advice, Dr. Orsagh-Yentis says. You can also call poison control (1-800-222-1222). However, if your child swallowed a button battery or high-powered magnet, go to the emergency room ASAP.

In addition to all of this, Dr. Orsagh-Yentis and her team are urging manufactures to keep small toys off the market, especially ones that are appealing to very young children.

Studies like these can be scary AF, but at the same time, knowledge is power. If you have a little one, let this be a good reminder to take as many safety precautions as possible, and always, always be vigilant. Remember, too, that kids often are a few steps ahead of you when it comes to their ability to climb and crawl and get their hands of just about everything, so think ahead and lock stuff up, even if you don’t think they can get to it yet.

Oh, and spread the word. Not all parents are aware of just how dangerous some of this stuff can be, and the more awareness there is, the better.

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