Researchers at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio found between 1995 and 2015, almost 800,000 kids under age six were seen in an emergency room after swallowing some kind of foreign object.
The study, published Thursday in the journal Pediatrics, examined data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System between 1995 and 2015 that specifically related to non-fatal emergency room visits from children under the age of 6 for foreign-body ingestion. The rate jumped from nearly 10 per 10,000 ER visits to 18 per 10,000.
"The sheer number of these injuries is cause for concern", said lead study author Dr. Danielle Orsagh-Yentis of Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. Over the 21-year period, the researchers said that the number of children swallowing batteries grew 150 times, and button batteries, which are small and found in everyday items including toys, represent 85 percent of the cases.
Nine in ten kids treated in emergency rooms for swallowing foreign objects were treated and released without being admitted to the hospital, the study found.
Parents need to be especially cautious with button batteries and powerful magnets, said Dr. Lois Lee, an emergency medicine physician at Boston Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical School.
The Associated Press reports 90% of kids did not require hospitalization.
Coins, toys, jewelry, button batteries, screws: Kids put all manner of things in their mouths, and adults are not doing a very good job of stopping them.
In recent years, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued safety warnings and orders to stop sales of some magnets, citing dozens of hospitalizations and at least one toddler death. "And if they are accidentally ingested, they should take it seriously and let someone know right away so they can be brought to the emergency room to be evaluated immediately". Researchers also lacked data on the exact objects swallowed by individual children or outcomes for specific patients. The highest rates of hospitalizations occurred for children who swallowed coins.
"While coins were the most frequently swallowed object, batteries are of particular risk because they can do considerable damage when ingested", Orsagh-Yentis said by email.
Morag Mackay of Safe Kids Worldwide said that more research is needed to find out why cases are increasing. In the meantime, she said guardians should be more vigilant of the objects around their children.
"Try to see the world from a child's point of view by getting on the floor so that you are at your child's eye level", she stated.