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ER visits related to kids swallowing coins, toys and other objects nearly doubles over two decades: study

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Photo: olesiabilkei/iStockphoto

Columbus, OH — The number of emergency room visits involving young children swallowing foreign objects has nearly doubled over the past two-plus decades, a recent study from Nationwide Children’s Hospital shows.

Researchers analyzed 1995-2015 data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System. They found that more than 759,000 children younger than 6 were treated in ERs after swallowing coins or other objects. Nearly two-thirds (62%) were 1 to 3 years old, and slightly more than 10% of all of the children were admitted to the hospital.

The rate of such ER visits jumped 91.5% over the course of the study period, to 18 per 10,000 children in 2015 from 9.5 in 1995. Total cases in 2015 fell shy of 43,000 (about 118 per day), nearly twice the estimated 22,000 (about 60 per day) recorded in 1995.

“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,” Dr. Danielle Orsagh-Yentis, study lead author and pediatric gastroenterology motility fellow at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, said in a April 12 press release.

Most ingestions involved coins (62%), followed by toys (10%), jewelry (7%) and batteries (7%). Batteries are of particular concern because of the considerable harm they can cause when swallowed.

Although batteries were involved in only a relatively small number of the cases, ingestions involving the devices increased 150-fold over the course of study. Button batteries, found in everyday items such as toys, key fobs and greeting cards, made up 86% of the battery ingestions.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition offer the following advice to parents and caregivers:

  • Store small items up, away and out of sight.
  • Check age recommendations on toy packaging to determine if the item is appropriate for your child. Also, read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for assembly and use.
  • If you think your child may have swallowed a foreign object, first call your pediatrician or poison control at (800) 222-1222. If you suspect your child may have ingested a button battery or high-powered magnet, go to your local ER as quickly as possible.

“Continued advocacy and product regulations are needed to keep children safe,” Orsagh-Yentis said in the release, “and the data shows that vigilance, advocacy and regulations are effective.”

The study was published online April 12 in the journal Pediatrics.

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