Coins, small toys most common items swallowed by kids

4 May 2021

Coins and small toys were the most swallowed items by children behind a visit to the Queensland Children’s Hospital in 2020, emergency records show.

Button batteries, magnets and other people’s medicines rounded out the top five, representing the more serious items ingested, with more than 20 children needing urgent medical care after swallowing button batteries, and 15 for magnets.

Sharp objects like small pieces of plastic and glass are also commonly swallowed by little mouths, along with fishbones and pieces of jewellery, such as earrings and rings.

Around five children present to the emergency department at the Queensland Children’s Hospital each week after swallowing an object they should not have. In many cases these objects will move through the digestive track without causing harm, however some can cause serious complications and even death.

Queensland Children’s Hospital paediatric emergency consultant Dr Veevek Thankey said it was important parents and carers sought medical help early if they suspected their child may have swallowed a foreign object of any kind.

“Around 80 per cent of objects will pass through the body without causing harm, but there is always a risk that some may become stuck or cause internal injuries,” Dr Thankey said.

“For example, if a button battery becomes stuck in the oesophagus (between the mouth and stomach) it can burn through the tissue in just two hours, causing a life-threatening injury so it’s important to act quickly.

“Magnets can also be very dangerous when swallowed, especially if two or more have been ingested because they can pull together inside the body and cause sores, ulcers, blockages or form holes (perforations) in the internal organs.

“Even small sharp objects will usually pass through the body safely if they have been swallowed easily and reach the stomach. However, small toys and beads made of materials which are designed to expand when placed in water (like ‘grow-in-water’ toys) can cause a serious blockage when they are swallowed and reach digestive fluids.”

If a child has swallowed an object without any obvious signs of choking or distress, there may not be any immediate symptoms.

However, parents should seek medical help immediately if they notice any of the following:

  • drooling or vomiting
  • wheezing, coughing or any difficulty breathing
  • chest or abdominal pain
  • refusal to eat
  • fever
  • blood in vomit or stool.

“An X-ray may be needed to determine the cause of the symptoms, and in some cases surgical intervention may be required,” Dr Thankey said.

“If a foreign object has been stuck in the body for a long time without treatment it can cause infection that might require antibiotics or other treatment in hospital.”

Children under three years are at the highest risk of swallowing objects that they shouldn’t, Dr Thankey warned.

“Toddlers and infants learn and explore by putting items in their mouths, so it’s really important to keep any small items that could be swallowed off the floor and out of their reach.”

If you suspect your child has swallowed an object, contact your GP, call 13 HEALTH or go to your nearest hospital Emergency department. If there’s a chance it could be a button battery or magnet, call 000 immediately and ask for an ambulance.


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Top 10 items swallowed by children requiring emergency care at the Queensland Children’s Hospital in 2020

  1. Coin
  2. Toy (such as Lego, game pieces)
  3. Unintended medicine
  4. Small battery
  5. Magnet
  6. Small piece of plastic
  7. Small piece of glass
  8. Marble
  9. Fishbone
  10. Jewellery

Source: Queensland Children’s Hospital