Help! My child has swallowed something bad

Little girl playing with cleaning products

Little kids are always putting things in their mouths. It’s a normal and key developmental stage as they discover new tastes and textures but sometimes they actually swallow!! So what’s bad and what’s harmless?

When bub swallows something they shouldn’t 

When a child swallows something small it can often pass through their digestive system without causing any harm. However, in some instances it can be extremely dangerous – such as if the item gets stuck or causes them to choke, internal damage occurs, or a serious or allergic reaction takes place.

An x-ray or removal of the foreign object may be required (such as if it’s lodged in the oesophagus or made from a dangerous material), with other medical treatment possibly given in the event it is a substance toxic to a child. Some items can make children feel sick but are not that harmful if they’re able to be passed, while others might trigger much more severe symptoms so it’s important to know which ones to look out for.

child eating dirt
Eww! Eating dirt might seem gross but it’s nothing major to worry about

Items they might swallow

Here’s a list of common items little ones might accidentally ingest and what you need to do:

Batteries & magnets

Magnets and small button or disc shaped batteries found in watches and calculators are very dangerous as the chemicals inside can leak and burn the surrounding tissue or cause lead poisoning. You will need to visit a doctor immediately for a scan, even if your child has no symptoms, and depending on where it’s located they will advise the next steps (often they will pass it in their poo).

Sand, dirt, bugs & leaves

While it may seem concerning, you don’t have much to worry about with these natural substances other than perhaps a tummy ache. The only exceptions are bees and spiders which might cause allergic reactions due to their poisonous venom.

Cleaning products, weed killers & other poisons

Bleach, snail bait, weed killers surface sprays and the like can be very dangerous if swallowed and result in fatal poisoning. Best to call the poisons hotline or 000 if it’s an emergency, even if it’s a natural type of product.

Medicines, alcohol & drugs

Tablets, liquid medicines, alcohol and drugs can pose a serious risk to children if swallowed. Some are more dangerous than others but it’s best to call 000 immediately as some reactions may be delayed. The child’s stomach may also need to be pumped quickly to bring up the substances and prevent further harm.

Sharp objects

Needles, stiff wire, an open safety pin, toothpick, small shard of glass or even a tiny fish bone can all damage your baby’s oesophagus, stomach or intestines; so if you suspect your child has swallowed something sharp you will need to contact the doctor and an x-ray will most likely be required. In many cases the items will still pass through their system.

Other small objects

Coins and other small objects such as marbles, buttons and toys are very common items that get swallowed by kids. An x-ray will reveal any metal objects, but many other things won’t show up in the scan. If it’s smooth, small and not poisonous then you can often just watch for symptoms and check their poo over the next few days to try and find the item. In rare cases objects can make their way into other parts of the body.

Discarded food, rubbish or pet food

A mouldy sandwich might be carrying harmful bacteria and make your child sick, but they shouldn’t have too many other harmful effects. And while it may seem gross, pet food is not harmful to humans unless it’s something like raw chicken which can cause salmonella poisoning.

Poisonous berries or mushrooms

Some things in nature can look like food but are toxic, such as certain berries and mushrooms. If your suspect your child has eating anything like this then call the doctor immediately.

When to call 000

To recap, the most dangerous items that children can swallow are:

  • Batteries and magnets
  • Sharp and metal objects
  • Toxic substances like cleaning products, poisons and medicines
  • Larger objects that can get stuck

Signs that your child’s life might be at risk from something they’re swallowed include:

  • Trouble breathing or coughing
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Anaphylactic shock
  • Stomach or chest pains
  • Drooling or dribbling
  • Not wanting to or being able to eat or drink
  • Blood in their poo or vomit
  • They’re unconscious

If you are ever concerned about something your child has swallowed, please speak to your doctor or call 000 immediately.

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