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What to do if a kid swallows a coin

child playing with coins

You would think that this would be all figured out by now, because it’s a pretty common thing for a kid to swallow a penny,” says Gregory Conners, MD, executive director of Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital. His first three research projects examined the best way to treat a child who has swallowed a penny.

“It turns out there are lots of different ways to do it,” he says. “And if you go around the country, the same patient would be cared for in different ways in different places — less so now than when I started because — I’m pleased to say — I’ve had some impact in the field.”

His advice to parents and guardians:

Look at the child. Is he or she having trouble breathing? Are they drooling or vomiting? Do they struggle to swallow?  If so, go to the emergency department.

If the child is behaving normally, contact his or her pediatrician or primary care provider.

Unless the child has underlying health conditions, most likely a doctor will reassure that the penny will work its way through the child’s digestive system. “The problem — when there is a problem — is that the coin will maybe get stuck somewhere along the way. Most of the time, it comes right through,” Conners says.

He says it’s important to get to the hospital quickly if a child swallows a magnet or a button battery, the tiny batteries that power watches.

A child will also need to contact his or her doctor if a small object becomes stuck in his or her nose or ear — unless it is a battery. In those instances, they should go to the pediatric emergency department at Upstate.

Conners says the person who brings the child to the emergency department ideally should know the events leading up to the child’s illness or injury, so that can be communicated to the doctor.

“It’s important for us to know what the background is. In pediatrics you really rely heavily on the story, the history.”

For questions at any hour, contact the Upstate New York Poison Center at 800-222-1222.

Upstate Health magazine fall 2019 coverThis article appears in the fall 2019 issue of Upstate Health magazine. Click here for the full online version of the magazine.