Dear Dr. Soukup, I think my 18 month old son might have swallowed a penny. Will this pass by itself? Amy D.
Most children who swallow “foreign objects” are between the ages of 6 months and 3 years, because they are mobile and use their mouths to explore their world! Coins are the most common of these swallowed objects. The good news is that most of these will pass on their own through the intestinal tract. Some objects do require removal, however, so an evaluation in your pediatrician’s office or the emergency department is an important place to start. Many times the ingestion is witnessed by a caregiver, but sometimes symptoms such as drooling, refusing to eat or drink, fussiness, or difficulty breathing may be the only clue. An Xray can see a metallic object, such as a penny, but may not be able to see other objects made out of plastic or other materials. Objects that are sharp, large, or lodged in the esophagus may need to be removed. This procedure, called an “endoscopy,” uses a small camera placed through the mouth to grasp and remove the object, during a brief anesthesia. If the coin has passed into the stomach, it will likely pass on its own in the next week or two. Your pediatrician will usually check another X-ray to make sure, unless you find it on the other end!
There are a few important things to know right away however. Magnets and batteries are extremely dangerous when swallowed and should be considered an emergency. Strong magnetic balls are marketed as toys and are appealing to toddlers because they are small, shiny, and round. These magnets can cause serious damage to the intestines if swallowed and unfortunately, I have had to operate on a number of children for this. Although these magnet toys were taken off the market due to these serious safety concerns, they are back… (https://www.popsci.com/buckyballs-are-back-on-market). Batteries can also be very dangerous if swallowed, particularly the small “button batteries” found in hearing aids, games/toys, finger flashlights, watches, and even hallmark cards. If stuck in the esophagus, batteries can rapidly cause a very serious internal burn needing emergency surgery and removal. It is important, as parents, to be aware of these seemingly harmless objects in our homes that could cause serious injuries if ingested. I hope this question helped to educate us all! Thanks for your question!
Thanks for your question! – Dr. Soukup
Elizabeth S. Soukup, M.D., M.M.Sc.
Dr. Soukup is a Pediatric Surgeon at the Elliot Hospital and has an interest in educating families about pediatric health and wellness. Her mission is to provide expert specialty care for children of all ages in New Hampshire – newborns through teenagers – striving to keep them close to their families and communities. If you would like more information, call 603-663-8393 for an appointment, or visit our website at Dr. Soukup earned her Bachelor of Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and her Doctor of Medicine from the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, where she received the Outstanding Achievement Award in Medicine, graduating first in her class. She completed her General Surgery training at the Massachusetts General Hospital and her fellowship in Pediatric Surgery at Children’s Hospital Boston. During her time in Boston, she also completed a Masters of Medical Sciences degree in clinical investigation from Harvard Medical School. She was awarded Elliot Hospital’s “Physician of the year” for 2018. She is board-certified in both Pediatric Surgery and General Surgery. She has specialized training and experience in minimally invasive surgical treatment for babies, children and teenagers. Her practice includes all areas of general pediatric surgery, including common pediatric surgical problems as well as neonatal surgery, congenital anomalies, minimally invasive surgery, and complex thoracic surgical problems.
http://elliothospital.org/website/pediatric-surgery.php. Check out previous articles at #askthepediatricsurgeon.