Christmas Toy Troubles

You may wonder why I am writing about children's toys.  Well, it turns out that one of my many responsibilities on call is to remove them from children's stomachs. When I relayed this to my family, they were fascinated by this. Children are naturally curious and tend to put objects in their mouths.  Interestingly, about 100 children per day are seen in our Emergency rooms for swallowing things.  The incidence of these visits has doubled since the 1990's which stresses the importance of baby proofing your home. From 1995 to 2015, more that 750,000 children under the age of 6 were seen in emergency rooms after swallowing coins, toys, jewelry, screws, nails, batteries and other objects.  

On one of my recent call nights, I had two young toddlers who had each swallowed objects that needed to be retrieved, a quarter and a magnet. Unfortunately, this requires an operating room, general anesthesia and sometimes transfer to a hospital with special equipment.  The procedure can be simple or can be tedious depending on the object and the ease of grabbing it or finding it if the child recently ate food.  

Most parents understand the risks of children swallowing objects and know to keep small items out of reach.  There are several items that require immediate attention:

  • Button batteries If you think your child has swallowed a button battery, like the kind found in a watch, bring them to the ER immediately.  These batteries can leak fluid which is toxic to internal organs.  This can cause damage as soon as two hours post ingestion.  One study found that giving a spoonful of honey was protective until the object could be removed.
  • Sharp objects:  Objects such as pins, needles, nails or screws can also cause damage. These can pierce the internal organs and cause leakage.  
  • Magnets:  When a child swallows two magnets they can cause damage by pinching the intestinal tissue together.

As the toy season approaches, remember to keep small objects out of children's reach.  Take special care to store batteries, pins, needles and magnets away from children.  If you see your child swallow an object or if your toddler has excessive drooling or trouble swallowing, take them to the ER immediately.