As any parent can tell you, children are naturally curious and love to put things in their mouths, noses and ears. As a parent it's tough to keep your eyes on your baby at all times. And accidents are sure to happen. So to help out, I've put together a list of common items children have been known to ingest, inhale and insert. In a child's eyes, there are two basic groups of objects in this world:
Group 1: Foods
- Hot dogs
Group 2: Toys and Small Objects
- Toy parts
- Crayons and pen parts
- Tacks and buttons
- Pins, nails, beads and screws
Although this list is not extensive, it includes items I commonly see in the emergency room.
Now that you have a general idea of what children put in their mouths, familiarize yourself with some of the signs that may indicate they've swallowed something they shouldn't have. If your child is choking and can't breathe, it's usually obvious that something is very wrong and a call to 911 should be made immediately. As long as your child can cough, cry or speak, there is no immediate danger.
More commonly, the signs and symptoms that something has been swallowed are more subtle. If you suspect your child has something stuck in his or her esophagus, watch for these signs:
- Pain when swallowing
- Refusal to eat
No matter what the symptoms, if you suspect your child has ingested something talk to your pediatrician right away. If the object needs to be removed, it should be done so within 24 hours of ingestion to prevent serious injury.If the item is in the trachea (windpipe) or lungs, it will most likely need to be removed using a special camera designed to examine the lungs. If the item is in the esophagus, depending on what the object is and its position, it may need to be removed with a similar camera device or the doctor may want to watch and wait to see if it will pass on its own.
Kids will also put stuff in their ears, nose and genital areas (mainly girls). The ear is fairly straightforward, but your doctor will want to check and make sure the ear canal and drum haven't been damaged. Less commonly, young girls (prepubescent) may insert foreign objects into their genitalia and can develop vaginal bleeding as a result.
Most aspirations and ingestions occur in children under the age of 4. To prevent such situations, cut up round foods that can easily cause choking, like grapes, vegetables and hot dogs. Avoid sliced foods, which are easier to lodge in the airway. Most choking episodes seem to occur when children are playing or running around while eating, so try to keep children at the table until they finish their meals. Keep an eye on what your child is getting into and avoid having high-risk objects around the house.
Neal Sikka, M.D. is an emergency physician at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. He attended medical school at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.