Are Kids Swallowing More Foreign Objects? ER Visits Have Doubled, and We’ll Tell You Why

X-Ray of Child Who Swallowed a Foreign Object

Emergency rooms are seeing twice the number of kids coming for treatment after swallowing foreign items than they did 20 years ago, according to a new study – and the question is: Why?

A new study published in the journal Pediatrics found that the number of ER visits for swallowing incidents literally doubled between 1995 and 2015, with nearly 43,000 of those being for children aged 6 and under.

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X-Ray of Child Who Swallowed a Foreign Object

Number likely higher

The study authors say the number of children requiring treatment after swallowing items is likely to be much higher. That’s because the study only looked at data from actual ER visits. The study did not include the number of children who were taken for treatment at a primary care physician or an urgent care center.

What’s being swallowed?

What’s also alarming is the type of things kids are swallowing: Coins, batteries, screws, jewelry, and toys. Over the twenty year period, an average of 99 children per day wound up in emergency rooms due to swallowing something.

10 percent of the children required hospitalizations, and among those, the highest were children who swallowed coins, followed by those who swallowed batteries. Batteries and magnets both can pose severe risks if swallowed.

Batteries have the potential to cause internal injuries resembling a burn, leading to dead tissue and perforation. Magnets pose the threat of rupturing intestinal walls.

Why have swallowing incidents doubled?

The biggest question of all is what has caused the number of these types of swallowing incidents to double?

One injury prevention advocacy group, Safe Kids Worldwide, is calling for more research to be done to investigate why swallowing incidents are on the rise.

One physician suggested that newer consumer products have more associated dangers, especially the button-sized batteries that are found in many devices and toys.

Could it be distracted parents and less parental supervision?

Interestingly, the study nor none of the articles about this phenomena have taken notice of what could be another potential factor. During this 20-year period where child ER visits have doubled, it also appears to coincide with an increase in the use of smartphones and other handheld electronic devices.

One cannot rule out the possibility that the simultaneous rise in children accidentally swallowing items could correlate to an increase in distracted parents and decreased child supervision.