When Children Swallow Foreign Objects

Children love to put things in their mouths – no matter what the substance – and regardless of how closely you watch them, they often find ways of doing it anyway. Since you can’t always prevent the worst from happening, you should be educated about the risks and about what to do in such a situation.

Ninety percent of the time, a swallowed object is of no great concern. It is entirely possible for a child to swallow something without the parents’ knowledge, and to suffer no adverse side affects. It is important not to panic if you find that your child has ingested something he shouldn’t, and to take the appropriate action.

If you find that your child is suffering these symptoms, it is very possible that he has swallowed something he shouldn’t:

1. Throat pain
2. Trouble swallowing
3. Vomiting
4. Choking or gagging
5. Excessive coughing
6. Stomach ache
7. Loud or ragged breathing

These symptoms may indicate that something is caught in your child’s throat, or that something has already made its way into the stomach or intestines.

Regardless of your experience in this area, you should always call a doctor, especially if you don’t know what your child has swallowed. Unless there are immediately severe symptoms, it isn’t necessary to rush the child to the hospital, though that is certainly your prerogative. Your doctor can best advise you on what to do next.

You should, however, call an ambulance if the child is unable to breathe, if there is persistent vomiting or if your child is unable to function. This could mean that there is something lodged in the child’s throat, or that he has swallowed something toxic.

Your doctor may give you any number of suggestions. A common one is to look for the object in your child’s bowel movements, though the object may take up to two weeks to pass. This is most easily accomplished by placing the bowel movement into a strainer and running hot water over the contents to flush it out. You should never administer a laxative in order to speed up this process.

If you do not find the object in your child’s stool, you should call your doctor again. A hospital can run an x-ray of your child’s abdomen to try and find the object visually.

If you do need to take your child to the hospital, the following tests and procedures may be run in order to ensure your child’s health:

1. Blood Sample – Tests will be run on a blood sample to determine any secondary side effects from swallowing the object
2. Pulse Oximeter – Placed on the child’s finger or toe, this machine measures the amount of oxygen in a patient’s blood.
3. ECG – An electrocardiograph, also called an EKG, uses patches on the child’s test, which are hooked up to a television monitor. The test is used to show pictures of each heartbeat, and to search for injuries or damage that might have been caused by the object.
4. Bronchoscopy – Usually administered with a mild sedative, this test involves sending a tube down your child’s throat to search for obstructions in the esophagus.
5. Chest X-Ray – The chest x-ray looks for problems in your child’s lungs and upper respiratory system.

In order to prevent this problem from happening again, follow these rules of thumb:

1. Inspect your home and yard (anywhere the child plays) for objects that may be swallowed.
2. Avoid purchasing toys with small pieces. Also make sure none of the toys have parts that can be broken off and swallowed.
3. Cut your child’s food into small pieces so that large chunks cannot be caught in the throat.
4. Keep all toxic chemicals and substances off the ground floor of your home. All cleaning products should be kept on high shelves out of reach.
5. Keep your doctor’s phone number on the refrigerator or in a place where you can find it quickly.

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