If you're a parent, this will sound familiar. You take your eyes off of your child for a moment, and when you look back, they have something in their mouth that's not exactly edible. Yet they swallow it anyway. This, of course, is nothing new. In fact, a recent story in STAT magazine notes that Boston Children's Hospital keeps a collection of "weird things children swallow" that traces the unfortunate practice all the way back to at least 1918. Pediatricians meticulously documented the unusual things that children had swallowed (and needed to be retrieved), including "a chicken claw, a sardine can key, a doll's hand, and a 1940 pin supporting the re-election of President Franklin D. Roosevelt."
Karthik Balakrishnan, M.D., a Mayo Clinic pediatric ear, nose, and throat specialist, has seen his share of such unfortunately ingested items. "We see it here at Mayo fairly often," he tells us. "Probably once a week." While Dr. Balakrishnan tells Stat that he's seen kids swallow "everything from straight pins to a hearing aid," he notes that children also occasionally put things into their noses. And ears. Dr. Balakrishnan says a young girl who came in with a googly eye stuck in her ear still takes the cake. "When I looked in her ear, I saw an eye looking back at me," he says.
As comical as some of this might seem (because it's not happening to us), Dr. Balakrishnan tells us there can be serious side effects. Especially when it comes to the button-type batteries that are in many toys. "If swallowed, a button battery can cause damage to a child's tissue within two hours, so they really need to get checked out fast if they swallow those," he says.
Dr. Balakrishnan recommends keeping all household batteries "locked in a childproof cabinet high out of reach" and making sure the battery compartments on toys are kept tight at all times.
If and when children swallow something they shouldn't, Dr. Balakrishnan says it's always better to err on the side of caution when deciding whether to seek help. "Any time a parent is concerned that their child has swallowed or choked on something that may have fallen into their airway, they should take the child to the ER or their pediatrician immediately," he tells us. And if you happen to see what your child swallowed, bringing an object of comparable size and shape with you will help doctors better determine how to get it out.
For more tips and advice on what to do if your child swallows something they shouldn't, click here. Then, be sure to share your comments below, and use the tools atop this page to share this story with others.