When we think about child safety as it relates to kids putting things in their mouth, we tend to think of choking hazards. Yet choking is only part of the danger. Many things that a child might put in their mouth or ingest can cause serious medical problems even if it doesn’t block their airway. In fact, these are frequently some of the most worrisome dangers, because unlike choking, the incident can go by unnoticed. A child who swallows something harmful may appear fine in the moment, and most children are reluctant to tell their parents they swallowed an item they weren’t supposed to have in their mouth, for fear of getting in trouble. Other kids may be too young to communicate this. So a child may swallow something and appear fine at first, only to be rushed to the E.R. with life-threatening complications a day or even a week or two later.
Stuff children have swallowed
The list of things children have swallowed reads like a stage act at a freak show, and parents would be amazed at what kids can put down their throat. One 5-year-old girl accidentally swallowed a small screwdriver for eyeglasses after putting it in her mouth to play with. Another girl battles for her life after swallowing batteries from a hearing aid. A baby almost had her life snatched away because of a lowly sequin. You know, the kind preschoolers routinely use on art projects. This seemingly harmless little object had lodged in her throat and became infected, nearly killing her. If you can name it, chances are a child at one time or another has tried to eat it and found themselves in the emergency room, as TLC’s television show “My Child Swallowed That?!” can attest to. Here are some of the most dangerous objects for a child to swallow:
Dangers from children swallowing batteries
Batteries are especially dangerous because of the chemicals inside of them. Lithium batteries start giving off corrosive acids that injure tissue, and when mixed with stomach acid, can even create an electrical current that interferes with a child’s biology. There are around 3,500 ER visits every year from children ingesting batteries, and 13 kids will die from it. All batteries can be dangerous, but especially problematic are watch batteries, those from hearing aids, or the small round batteries contained in electronic read-along books, which children often gain access to. A toddler or preschooler ends up gnawing the battery loose from the book, and it’s the perfect size to be swallowed.
Protecting children from the danger of batteries:
- Keep all batteries locked up in a safe place, just as you might with other poisons.
- Toss all read-along books if they are getting too worn or the cardboard around the electronic device/battery compartment is fraying. Also keep a close eye on musical cards.
The dangers of children swallowing magnets
Magnets are dangerous because they can pull together in a child’s stomach, pinching tissue and causing other serious problems. Magnets can assert pressure on the bowel walls, causing them to burst. In one case, a little girl nearly died from swallowing 3 small magnets, and her situation was hardly unique.
Protecting children from the dangers of magnets:
- Keep fridge magnets up high where children cannot reach them, and avoid small, round magnets, opting instead for large flat ones that are harder to swallow.
- Another common source of magnet injuries is the magnetic alphabet letters that preschoolers commonly have. The glue can weaken and the magnet can dislodge from the letter, especially in cheaper made brands. Keep all magnetic alphabet pieces away from younger kids, and don’t mix them in with other toys. Check them periodically (and any other toys with magnets) to ensure they are in good working order, and that the magnets aren’t loose.
Tacks, nails, bobby pins, sewing needles and the like
If you think that just because something’s sharp and pointy that kids wouldn’t put it in their mouth, think again. Especially dangerous are the standard poster board tacks that you see in most stores; the kind with the colored, hourglass shaped head and about a quarter inch needle. Infants and toddlers are especially likely to try to eat these. They usually go down the hatch just far enough to cause serious problems before becoming lodged in a child’s throat or poking a hole in their stomach. Once stuck, the injured area commonly becomes infected, and this infection can be fatal. Needles to say, it’s best to keep all small, sharp, pointy objects away from children!
Children swallowing jewelry or charms
In addition to the fact that these are frequently metal and come in jagged shapes, many cheap charms and bracelets – the kind kids are most likely to possess – have been found to frequently contain lead. Roughly 4,000 kids end up in the ER each year from swallowing jewelry or charms. If an item contains lead, this lead poisoning can be subtle. In once case, it took a 4-year-old boy several days to slip into a coma after swallowing a lead-laced heart shaped charm which had come free with his purchase of Reebok sneakers. (Nightline, 12-19-08, ABC News)