Swallowed Something

Children are curious and often put objects in their mouth and accidentally swallow them. These might be toys they were playing with or other objects they find, such as batteries or pills. If you know or suspect what your child might have swallowed, it can be helpful if you can take an example or any packaging with you to the hospital. 

Sometimes you might not be sure if your child has swallowed something, or they might tell you but you haven’t witnessed them do it. If you think your child might have swallowed or choked on something, check for the symptoms in the Red Box and take them to A&E if they have any. Tell the nurse or doctor what you are worried about, let them know if you have any button batteries or small magnets in the house, and if any might be missing. 

If your child has swallowed something else that is smaller than a sweet, isn’t sharp or possibly poisonous, you can watch them closely at home. Most objects will pass through the intestines without any difficulty. You do not need to check your child’s poos for the objects but watch closely for any of the features  

If your child has swallowed a poisonous substance 

If you think your child has swallowed pills or medicines: 

  • Unless you're absolutely sure what they are, spend a minute or two looking for the missing pills. 
  • If you still think your child has swallowed something, take them straight away to A&E 
  • Take the full set of tablets with you so the doctors can check the labelling and calculate how much your child may have taken. 
  • Keep a close eye on your child and be prepared to follow the resuscitation sequence
  • If possible, write down the name of whatever you think your child has swallowed so you can tell the doctor. 
  • Do not give your child salt and water or do anything else to make them sick. 
  • Try to keep your child calm and do not encourage them to walk around to keep awake. 

If you think your child has swallowed household or garden chemicals: 

  • Calm your child down as much as you can (this will be easier if you stay calm yourself). 
  • Act quickly to get your child to A&E. 
  • If possible, write down the name of whatever you think your child has swallowed so you can tell the doctor. 
  • If your child is in pain or there's any staining, soreness or blistering around their mouth, they've probably swallowed something corrosive. Give them milk or water to sip to ease the burning and get them to hospital quickly. 

If a child swallows a button battery or strong magnet 

Button batteries are small round, silver batteries found in lots of electrical toys and devices. 

If your child swallows a button battery or you think they may have swallowed one, take them to A&E straight away. 

As well as being a choking hazard, button batteries can cause internal burns, internal bleeding, and sometimes death. 

They can also cause burns if they're lodged in a child's nose or ear. 

Strong (rare earth) magnets are popular toys but can easily be swallowed by young children and can cause serious intestinal injuries. If you suspect your child has swallowed any magnets, you should take them to A&E. 

Xrays can be taken that will help assess if your child has swallowed a metallic object and needs any other treatment. 

When should I worry and what should I do?

Self care

Most swallowed objects are harmless and will pass through the digestive system without causing any harm. Studies suggest that it takes about 3-5 days for the object to pass out into the stool (poo).

We do not routinely recommend looking through the stool to find the object, as this can be unpleasant and not helpful.

It can be challenging to always stop young children putting things in their mouth that they might swallow. However, there are some things you can do to reduce the risk of accidents happening. You can learn about what objects are particularly harmful if swallowed and then reduce the risk of your child getting hold of these objects.

Button Batteries

All batteries can be harmful if swallowed but button batteries are particularly dangerous. These batteries are flat and round, ranging from 5 – 25mm in diameter. Button batteries can get stuck in the oesophagus (food pipe) and cause permanent damage within hours. If your child has swallowed a button battery, bring them to the Emergency Department straight away. They might need to undergo a procedure to remove it.

button_batteries_1.jpg

 (Button batteries are flat and round. These ones are about the same size as a 5 pence piece.)

Button batteries are found in many objects that you might have at home, including hearing aids, car keys, remote controls, weighing scales, musical greeting cards and some toys.

swallowed_foreign_object_1.jpg

What you can do:

  • Check every battery powered device in your home and anywhere that your child stays. Ensure the battery case is shut and secured.
  • Know what objects in your home use button batteries and do not let your child play with them. Keep these objects out of you child’s sight and reach.
  • Be careful buying toys online, overseas or in markets as these may not meet UK toy safety standards.
  • Teach older children about the dangers of button batteries and that they should not give them to younger children to play with.
  • Keep spare batteries in a locked cabinet or box
  • Dispose of old batteries safely. Anywhere that sells batteries, such as a supermarket, should offer collection of old batteries.

Click here for more information on button battery safety.

 

Magnets

Magnetic ball toys are about 10 times stronger than traditional magnets. If a child swallows more than one of the magnetic balls, they can stick to each other inside the body and cause damage to the bowel and other structures that get caught in between. They can be challenging to remove, often requiring surgery to do so. If your child has swallowed one or more magnets, bring them to the Emergency Department straight away.

magnets_image_1.jpg

What you can do:

  • Do not buy magnetic ball toys for your children or other people’s children.
  • If your child is older, talk to them about the dangers of these toys and discourage them from buying these. It is very easy to buy unregulated toys online. Even if your child is sensible, accidents can happen.
  • If you have them in the house consider getting rid of them

Click here for more information on magnetic toys.

Click here for information on toy safety.

Click here for information on choking prevention.

 

References 

www.rch.org.au/kidsinfo/fact_sheets/Swallowed_(Ingested)_foreign_bodies/

Where should you seek help?

  • If it is non-urgent, speak to your local pharmacist or health visitor.
  • Or contact you GP practice and a qualified member of the clinical team will assess if your child needs to be seen urgently.​​​​​​ For an urgent out-of-hours GP appointment, call NHS 111.
  • You should only call 999 or go your nearest A&E department in critical or life threatening situations.

For wear and tear, minor trips and everything in between.

Self-care

You can treat your child's very minor illnesses and injuries at home.

Some illnesses can be treated in your own home with support and advice from the services listed when required, using the recommended medicines and getting plenty of rest.

Sound advice

Children can recover from illness quickly but also can become more poorly quickly; it is important to seek further advice if a child's condition gets worse.

For information on common childhood illnesses go to What is wrong with my child?

Pharmacists are experts in many aspects of healthcare and can offer advice on a wide range of long-term conditions and common illnesses such as coughscolds and stomach upsets. You don’t need an appointment and many have private consultation areas, so they are a good first port of call. Your pharmacist will say if you need further medical attention.

Sound advice

  1. Visit a pharmacy if your child is ill, but does not need to see a GP.
  2. Remember that if your child's condition gets worse, you should seek further medical advice immediately.
  3. Help your child to understand - watch this video with them about going to the pharmacy.

For information on common childhood illnesses go to What is wrong with my child?

Health visitors are nurses or midwives who are passionate about promoting healthy lifestyles and preventing illness through the delivery of the Healthy Child Programme. They work with you through your pregnancy up until your child is ready to start school.

Health Visitors can also make referrals for you to other health professionals for example hearing or vision concerns or to the Community Paediatricians or to the child and adolescent mental health services.

Contact them by phoning your Health Visitor Team or local Children’s Centre.

Sound advice

Health visitors also provide advice, support and guidance in caring for your child, including:

  • Breastfeeding, weaning and healthy eating
  • Exercise, hygiene and safety
  • Your child’s growth and development
  • Emotional health and wellbeing, including postnatal depression
  • Safety in the home
  • Stopping smoking
  • Contraception and sexual health
  • Sleep and behaviour management (including temper tantrums!)
  • Toilet training
  • Minor illnesses

For more information watch the video: What does a health visitor do?

School nurses care for children and young people, aged 5-19, and their families, to ensure their health needs are supported within their school and community. They work closely with education staff and other agencies to support parents, carers and the children and young people, with physical and/or emotional health needs.

Contacting the School Nurse

Primary and secondary schools have an allocated school nurse – telephone your child’s school to ask for the contact details of your named school nurse.

All home educated children will have a named School Nurse.

Sound Advice

Before your child starts school your health visitor will meet with the school nursing team to transfer their care to the school nursing service. The school nursing team consists of a school nursing lead, specialist public health practitioners and school health staff nurses.

They all have a role in preventing disease and promoting health and wellbeing, by:-

  • encouraging healthier lifestyles
  • offering immunisations
  • giving information, advice and support to children, young people and their families
  • supporting children with complex health needs

Each member of the team has links with many other professionals who also work with children including community paediatricians, child and adolescent mental health teams, health visitors and speech and language therapists. The school health nursing service also forms part of the multi-agency services for children, young people and families where there are child protection or safeguarding issues.

The clinical team in GP surgeries include doctors, advanced nurse practitioners and nurses who are trained to assess, treat and manage a whole range of health problems. They also provide health education, give vaccinations and carry out simple surgical procedures. Your GP surgery team will arrange a referral to a hospital specialist should you need it.

Sound advice

You have a choice of service:

  1. Doctors/GPs can treat many illnesses that do not warrant a visit to A&E.
  2. Help your child to understand – watch this video with them about visiting the GP or going to a walk in centre

For information on common childhood illnesses go to What is wrong with my child?

If you’re not sure which NHS service you need, call 111. An adviser will ask you questions to assess your symptoms and then give you the advice you need, or direct you straightaway to the best service for you in your area.

Sound advice

Use NHS 111 if you are unsure what to do next, have any questions about a condition or treatment or require information about local health services.

For information on common childhood illnesses go to What is wrong with my child?

A&E departments provide vital care for life-threatening emergencies, such as loss of consciousness, suspected heart attacks, breathing difficulties, or severe bleeding that cannot be stopped. If you’re not sure it’s an emergency, call 111 for advice.

Sound advice

  1. Many visits to A&E and calls to 999 could be resolved by any other NHS services.
  2. If your child's condition is not critical, choose another service to get them the best possible treatment.
  3. Help your child to understand – watch this video with them about going to A&E or riding in an ambulance
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