Kids Emergency Room Visits For Swallowed Toys, Coins, Batteries Nearly Doubled

The research team analyzed a nationwide database of non-fatal emergency room visits for children younger than age six

Kids swallow the darnedest things -- and the number of ER visits almost doubled in 20 years, study says

The number of young children who are brought to the emergency room after swallowing a small object has doubled.

The study, published Thursday in the journal Pediatrics, examined data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System between 1995 and 2015 that specifically related to non-fatal emergency room visits from children under the age of 6 for foreign-body ingestion.

Experts are not sure why the rate of ER visits for kids who swallowed items has gone up from 10 per 10,000 visits to 18 per 10,000.

"The dramatic increase in foreign body injuries over the 21-year study period, coupled with the sheer number and profundity of injuries is cause for concern", stated Danielle Orsagh-Yentis, the lead author of the study. In particular, Orsagh-Yentis pointed to an increasing number of consumer products that use button-sized batteries, such as TV remotes, digital thermometers and remote-controlled toys, as possible contributors to the observed jump.

More young children are being treated in emergency rooms after swallowing potentially risky items. They found that more than 759,000 children who are under the age of 6 have been evaluated by doctors for swallowing a small object between 1995 to 2015.

Another limitation of the study is that it only included children seen in ERs, not kids who were treated in other settings or who weren't injured badly enough to require care. Batteries and small high-powered magnets often marketed as desk toys for adults are among the most risky objects. "If you have two magnets in different parts of the tissue and they attract each other, the tissue between the two can get pinched off and you lose blood circulation".

In recent years, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued safety warnings and orders to stop sales of some magnets, citing dozens of hospitalizations and at least one toddler death.

When swallowed the electric current from the batteries can burn a hole in a child's esophagus.

"Ingesting a button battery or high-powered magnet can potentially be lethal", Lee, who wasn't involved in the study, said by email.

Morag Mackay of Safe Kids Worldwide, an injury prevention advocacy group, called for more research to understand why the incidents are on the rise.

Even so, the results should serve as a fresh reminder to parents that young kids can and do put all sorts of objects in their mouths, said Dr. Pamela Okada, medical director of the emergency department at Children's Health Plano and professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. For coins, it was pennies; for toys, it was marbles; for jewelry, it was earrings; and for batteries, it was button batteries.

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